Breaking News Blog

Wednesday, Dec 21 2011 05:43 PM

Deadly sinkhole still gushing but flow is easing

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    By California Division of Oil

    Handout photograph - Oil and other fluids continues to seep to the surface near the site ofa fatal sinkhole in the Midway-Sunset field west of Taft in thishandout photo from the California Division of Oil, Gas and GeothermalResources. A sump has been dug to contain runoff from the area, whereDOGGR says seepage has fallen to about 30 barrels a day Dec. 1 from200 to 300 barrels a day Oct. 24. Photograoph courtesy of California Division of Oil, Gas andGeothermal Resources.

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    By California Division of Oil

    Handout photograph - This "crater-like structure" formed in recent months as oil and otherfluids overflowed near the site of a fatal sinkhole in theMidway-Sunset field west of Taft, according to the state Division ofOil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which provided the photo. Remedialwork began at the site in November, and earlier this month the craterwall was breached to allow fluid to drain into a newly excavated sumpnearby. Photograoph courtesy of California Division of Oil, Gas andGeothermal Resources.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer

Oil and dirty water continue to overflow -- albeit at a greatly reduced rate -- near a broken well that state investigators have linked to a deadly sinkhole west of Taft.

Regulators reported this week that fluids totaling 30 barrels a day were seeping from the site as of Dec. 1. Up to 10 times that amount had been spilling from the site daily as recently as Oct. 24, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources noted.

DOGGR's Tuesday news release said the division continues to investigate the six-month-old sinkhole accident, and that two oil producers with operations nearby, Chevron Corp. and TRC Operating Co. Inc., are trying to determine the source of the seepage.

In August, DOGGR ordered both companies to halt high-pressure steam injections within 800 feet of the well site after two "eruptions" of oil, steam and other materials there. The division said the area is still producing oil.

Chevron construction representative Robert David Taylor, 54, was killed June 21 when a sinkhole opened beneath him as he was walking in the prolific Midway-Sunset oil field. DOGGR investigators have since linked the sinkhole to steam injections and seepage of oil field fluids.

A Chevron spokesman indicated that the company has been working on a sump to contain fluids seeping from the well and that it is making sure rainwater does not mix with the fluid, which he noted is removed from the site and treated to salvage the oil.

Spokesman Simon Tait wrote in an email Tuesday that the company's production in the area "continues to decline" as a result of the steaming ban. But citing an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor's family, Tait declined to discuss Chevron's progress toward determining the reason for the seepage.

"However, we can tell you that Chevron continues to focus on understanding more about the reservoir in this area," he wrote.

Chevron has spent more than $2 million in three failed attempts, most recently in 2008, to cap the 75-year-old well where the sinkhole is believed to have originated. The company has said the well is deeper than most in the area and that it appears to have been sheared by seismic activity.

A spokesman for TRC, Larry Pickett, said the Taft-based oil producer is testing its wells in the area where DOGGR has banned steam injections.

"Once we get these wells tested and (the company determines) that they're working fine, hopefully we can get production up and running as soon as we can," he said.

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