California governor encouraged by oil spill cleanup effort

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he is encouraged by Chevron’s efforts to clean up what has turned into the state’s largest oil spill in decades.

About 970,000 gallons (3,670,000 liters) have leaked from the ground at an oilfield west of Bakersfield over the last couple of months; about one third of it is oil and the other two-thirds water.

“I’m seeing progress,” Newsom said on a visit to the site, where the oil and water are contained in a dry desert creek bed. The leaks are known as surface expressions, which can be caused by injecting steam into the ground.

Chevron uses steam injection to extract oil in the Cymric Oil Field about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Bakersfield. The steam softens the thick crude so it can flow more readily. It is a different process from fracking, which breaks up underground layers of rock.

The company has said the initial leak began May 10 after its crews tried to seal off a damaged and abandoned well. The company said efforts to confirm the source of the original leak and shut it down unleashed higher flows in the weeks after the initial release was discovered.

The state issued Chevron a notice of violation ordering it to stop steam injections around the spill. The company also increased its production of oil from wells in the area. Both actions are intended to relieve underground pressure that may be forcing the mix of oil and water to the surface.

The latest seepage was noticed July 17.

The spill is the largest in California since 1990, when a tanker spilled more than 400,000 gallons (1.5 million liters) of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach.

Officials said the latest spill is not affecting waterways.

Still, Newsom told reporters the state would ask Chevron to turn over data so regulators can investigate the cause of the spill.

The Bakersfield Californian reported over the weekend that records show Chevron continued to inject steam into the ground at a site about 360 feet (110 meters) from where its crews were working on a well – a combination of activity that experts said probably contributed to the release. Chevron denied that steam played any role in the uncontrolled releases.

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