Status of Oil Fields Following Thomas Fire in Ventura County - Update 1

CFROG reached out to several agencies and elected officials asking about protocol in oil fields following a major fire incident and this morning we received the following response from Benjamin Turner, Assistant Director of Government and Environmental Relations at the Department of Conservation, which includes our state oil and gas regulatory agency the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

We also received an update from Aera Energy at 12:52pm Dec. 12 - it is posted below.



“While there are no specific regulations for reactivation following an incident, such as in the case of the Thomas Fire, the Division has regulations that address various incidents.  For instance, under general requirements (California Code of Regulations 1722), unauthorized releases are required to be reported to the State Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Division district office, and any other agencies specified in the operator’s plan, which can include other State and local agencies.  In addition, incidents such as blowouts, fires, serious accidents and significant gas and water leaks or similar threats to health and safety are required to be reported to the Division district office.

Upon notification as required above, the District office staff obtain information regarding the incident.  The Division district offices are staffed to receive calls 24-hr a day, 365 days out of the year from an answering service for after hour calls.   Depending on the severity of the incident, the field engineer may notify his or her supervisors, who may also report the incident to the Division State Oil and Gas Supervisor, as well as Department leads.  The field engineer may also perform an initial inspection and then follow-up inspections.  For instance, information was received from oil operators for their leases in the Ventura oil field.  Given the restrictions in the area, the Division will not conduct an initial inspection while the fire is ongoing.  Our staff will however conduct follow-up inspections.  

There are several oil fields either currently threatened or have already been affected by the catastrophic fires in Southern California and Ventura. In all cases that we are aware of, the facilities were shut down prior to the fire reaching them. In some instances, the power lines were damaged shutting off power to the facilities.  Companies took action in these cases to ensure that systems remained down. 

By ensuring that the company controlled when power is restored to the facilities, such as wells and shipping pumps, equipment could be monitored appropriately during startup operations, minimizing the risk of an incident.  Despite the extent of the fires, very few incidents have been reported.  There was a small leak within secondary containment and one fire at a sump that were extinguished relatively quickly using fire retardant foam.

Following the fire and when it is safe to do so, DOGGR staff will conduct field inspections at any impacted facilities to determine if there are any safety or compliance issues. The extent of damage will be documented during the inspections.

The defensible space created by operators around tank facilities and well sites, and checked for by our staff during the routine environmental lease inspection process, has minimized damage to infrastructure as noted during the preliminary assessment by operators.  Much of the damage as indicated by Aera Energy is to power poles and communication systems.  Again, the District staff will conduct inspections when it is safe for our staff to be on effected leases.”


Statement from Michelle Newell, Public Affairs Specialist with AERA Energy - 

" As our community continues to feel the impact of the Thomas Fire, Aera Energy is committed to providing assistance to first responders, our neighbors and the residents of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties as we battle and recover from this devastating fire.

Aera employees are all accounted for and safe. Our employees have begun to return to work as we bring our electrical and communication systems back online. Even with this progress, our Ventura County operations remain shut down as we continue to work to restore electricity to all of our facilities.  Once electricity is fully restored, we expect to resume operations in some areas as early as this week.

We are continuing to assess damage and have not seen damage to tanks or production equipment.

While the fire no longer threatens the field like it did last week, we continue to support fire operations in the area by providing water trucks that are moving around our facilities 24 hours per day to combat any fire threats.  These trucks have been used to extinguish hot spots and saturate vegetation to prevent further flare ups. An Aera team is working is providing assistance to those firefighters, including refilling their trucks with water, guiding them through the field and even delivering pizza.

Aera's employees have monitored the facility 24-hours per day since the fire started last week.

We continue to offer our thoughts and prayers to our employees, neighbors and all of the courageous first responders, who have come from around the country to fight this fire.   

We are and will continue to remain Ventura Strong."


CFROG will continue to share information as we receive it. 

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