Oil spills and leaks in California are a big problem

Oil giants sell thousands of California wells, raising worries about future liability

California regulators this fall signed off on more than 20 million wells drilled over the past seven decades, and the oil and gas industry has drilled thousands more, but there are questions about the potential liability if oil spills and leaks occur during the drilling or well completion and production phases.

A map shows the location of thousands of new wells drilled in California between the 1930s and 2015. At least six major producers in the state have drilled 2.4 million wells since the year 2000, according to data compiled by the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Red dots indicate new wells between 1990 and 2015. (Environmental Law & Policy Center)

To prepare for those spills, some companies are already building containment systems or installing other safeguards on their projects, even when it’s unclear if the wells will be drilled on public land or private property.

Two of the most recent oil spills occurred in California, each the result of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract natural gas and other liquids from rock formations by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to break up rock and release hydrocarbons trapped in pores.

Two more oil spills were reported last week in the state, a leak from a pipeline that was originally built to deliver oil to an offshore platform, and a well blowout that occurred in June near Monterey County, where a well drilling rig was struck by a natural gas pipeline. Both were the result of oil spilling from a well a day before it was completed.

The problem extends to the drilling phase, with oil companies also making some of the “bends” and other twists that often accompany drilling operations.

For example, in December, after the well was completed, an oil tanker on the U.S. coast blew its top — but not its bottom — while trying to discharge its contents. The ship sank and the resulting spill was so big it was not immediately detected.

Meanwhile, a gas-well blowout in January in the Monterey area injured four people and polluted drinking water for more than 1,000 people.

In the end,

Leave a Comment