Rancher furious over oil sump on his property

Rancher furious over oil sump on his property »Play Video
Wendell Weller, 89, says he's unhappy about an oil drilling sump on his land.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- A rancher is angry about an oil drilling sump on his land and worried about its impact on wildlife and his animals. On Tuesday, the drillers were ordered to remove oil from the material in the sump and get it cleaned up.

Wendell Weller, 89, has owned land on South Granite Road for about 70 years, but the Bureau of Land Management has the mineral rights. For about two years Bonanza Creek Energy has leased the site from the BLM, and they've been drilling wells on the rolling hills where Weller pastures cattle and horses.

Recently one horse died, and Weller is more worried than ever. Tuesday Weller went to the current drilling site demanding to look at the sump. He said a bulldozer had started that morning to clear out the sump.

"I want to get a sample of this right here," Weller said -- pointing at the large sump. By his estimate, it's 300 feet long, 20 feet wide, and ten to 15 feet deep.

"They wouldn't have touched this," Weller told Eyewitness News, "Had I not gotten a hold of you to come out. They wouldn't have touched it."

Bonanza Creek foreman John "Allen" Jones said the sump had been there for about 30 days, but it had been empty at some times.

Weller wants to know what's in it, and if it's a hazard to wildlife. And, one of the horses he grazes nearby recently died. A vet couldn't pinpoint what killed the animal.

Weller worries animals could get into the sump because it was surrounded by only two strings of barbed wire.

And while getting the sump cleaned out was an improvement, the rancher didn't like the idea of the goopy soil being dumped on nearby land.

"He's taking it out of here and dumping it some place," Weller said to the Bonanza foreman. "I need to see what he's doing."

BLM assistant minerals manager Gabe Garcia told Eyewitness News he went to the disputed site Tuesday after getting a reporter's call.

"I told them to continue with the abandonment of the sump," Garcia said. He said the concerns Weller had are being addressed.

"There was a little bit of oil in the sump, so I told them to skim that off with a vacuum truck," Garcia said, adding that happens occassionally.

Asked about the material the bulldozer was already dumping out on the ground, Garcia said any oil in it would also have to be removed and hauled away.

Garcia said the drilling "mud" that's usually in sumps is not hazardous.

But, Weller also had those concerns about the fence that had been around the sump.

"It probably was not meeting our standards," Garcia said. And he added that if Bonanza puts up another sump, they would have to "make sure they have a proper fence up."

The property is what Garcia described as a "split estate."

"We, the Federal government, own the mineral rights, and we lease that out to a private company," Garcia said. He explained the BLM gets a 12 percent royalty on the oil produced. Weller said he gets no compensation for the oil drilling on his property.

Garcia said in these cases, the oil company must have a "surface use agreement" with property owner or a "surface use bond." He said in this case, there's the bond.

Garcia said the BLM will work with Weller, and address concerns about what happens on his land.

Weller is not convinced. The rancher said he's had a hard time getting response from the BLM or from Bonanza. Eyewitness News made several calls to Bonanza on Tuesday, but didn't get a response.

The rancher still worries about his land.

"I do try to take care of it, and then this happens," Weller said. "And you can't fight something like this."