Southern California based Berry Petroleum has been given the go ahead by California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to move forward with plans to use steam to extract oil at the Midway-Sunset oilfield near Taft in Kern County. The move comes after the company made some changes to its system to monitor conditions at the site, according to Division head Tim Kustic.
“We actually didn’t take anything away, we actually put some additional requirements, and it was regarding this monitoring system, what kind of information they had to provide to us, and how often and our accessibility to the data, these kinds of things,” said Kustic.
Last year, a Chevron worker at the same oil field was killed after falling into a sinkhole filled with steam and gasses that emerged due to nearby steam injection operations. The state issued an emergency order halting the practice near the sinkhole site. This new move does not change those restrictions, on sites owned by Chevron and TRC. “That order remains in effect and that order is the same,” said Kustic.
Last November Governor Jerry Brown fired Elena Miller, the previous director of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources after petroleum industry officials complained about her slow approach to approving permits. Miller was a noted critic of steam injection.
Kustic says since he’s taken over the division, relations with industry representatives have improved. “The dialogue with industry is improved from where it was a year ago, and I think with that effective dialogue, it’s helpful with facilitating our ability to sit down and discuss some of the challenges with regulating this industry, not just in Kern County, but across the state,” said Kustic.
He says that as the oil industry’s technology improves, regulations need to keep pace. “Industry is very innovative so they continue to learn ways to get those additional percentages out of the ground, and corresponding with that the regulator has to be educated and learn to how to best regulate industry as they go forward,” said Kustic.
The steam injection process makes oil easier to move and extract from the ground.