More problems in oil field where worker died in sinkhole

More problems in oil field where worker died in sinkhole »Play Video
TAFT, Calif. — Scathing state reports show new and serious problems in the oil field near Taft where a Chevron worker died in a sinkhole.

The Division of Oil and Gas reports an eruption happened last week near the accident site, and they have issued an emergency order to stop steam injection in the area.

In reports obtained by Eyewitness News, investigators say more steam turned up at ground level, Chevron and an additional operator were ordered to stop steam injection in wider and wider areas, and one company never had a permit for steam injection in the first place.

"The only things of which we are certain are that this is a hazardous situation and that there is a correlation between injection, fracturing, and the surface expressions we're seeing," Oil and Gas Supervisor Elena Miller said in a statement. "The fatality that occurred was a tragic incident and we haven't determined how the steam and oil is (sic) migrating to the surface at the site."

The Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources is one of several agencies investigating the accident on June 21 that took the life of Robert David Taylor in the Midway Sunset Field. The new DOGGR reports also show more about that death. Some of the orders show the agency was told the victim fell several feet below ground level into a hole containing poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas, steam, and hot water.

Taylor dropped into that hole as he was reportedly checking what the agency calls a "surface expression" of steam that occurred near Well 20. In some fields, steam is injected to help get oil out of the ground.

On July 6, DOGGR ordered Chevron to stop "all injection operations within a 150 foot radius of the surface expression" which was being investigated at the time of the accident. It added that if steam or fluids continued coming to the surface after five days, injections within 300 feet would be banned.

That order also revealed that Well 20 was "damaged," and fluids and gas on the ground were first reported to the agency before 2008.

On July 19, the division issued an order to the TRC Operating Company. TRC was told to stop all injection within 150 feet of the "surface expression" near Well 20, and to stop their injection operations within 300 feet, if steam or fluids continued at the surface five days later.

But, TRC was also given the same order relating to another "surface expression" near the "Bull" 9 well. DOGGR reports that expression had also started on June 21.

"A volume of oil and water is coming to the surface from this expression that merits immediate remediation," the order said. "Based on observation and statements by TRC, DOGGR estimates that as much as 100 barrels of oil and water are coming to the surface each day from the expression near well 'Bull' 9."

TRC filed an appeal, and continued injection until an administrative hearing could be held.

July 28, the agency issued an amended order to Chevron saying injection must not be done within 300 feet of the problem near Well 20. "DOGGR believes that the surface expression in the vicinity of Well 20 is directly related to cyclic steaming injection operations in the field," the order reads. "Although seepage of oil and water may occur in the area, any expression of steam at the surface can only reasonably be attributed to steaming or cyclic steaming injection operation."

It said immediate steps must be taken to "prevent further harm from occurring." But, conditions appear to have kept getting worse.

An order that came last week on Aug. 5 outlines more problems.

On Aug. 3, they report "at least two new" surface expressions started within 40 feet of the first one near Well 20. One of the new expressions had a five-foot radius, according to the order.

Then on August 5 more trouble and another order to TRC. "A volatile eruption began from the existing surface expression in the vicinity of Well 20," the order reads. "Expelling rocks, other material, and emitting fluid and steam." DOGGR said TRC then reported to them that on Aug. 3 and 4, the company had been doing cyclic steam injection to well near the original accident site.

"The eruptive and continuing surface expressions in the vicinity of Well 20 have created an unpredictable, unstable, and dangerous situation such that life, health, property and/or natural resources are at further risk," the report said.

That order tells TRC that to "minimize potentially unsafe oilfield conditions" they must immediately stop any injection operations within 500 feet of Well 20.

DOGGR also said they have no record of giving TRC approval for steam injections in the Midway-Sunset Field.

Eyewitness News contacted a spokeswoman for TRC Friday, who said no one was in the office. A reporter asked her to contact an official with the company, but no one responded.

Eyewitness News also called Chevron, but spokeswoman Carla Musser said they are making no comment at this time. Chevron is investigating the June 21 accident that claimed their employee, and Cal-OSHA is also investigating.

And DOGGR said their probe is still underway. "These orders have been issued to protect public safety," Oil and Gas Supervisor Elena Miller said in a statement. "Our intent is to halt the migration of oil, steam and other material from underground to the surface, as these constitute damage. Ordering a temporary halt to production is never a step we take lightly, but injection cannot resume until we determine what is going on at this location."