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W.Va. joins 16-states seeking to overturn court ruling on pipeline [Times West Virginian, Fairmont]

Oil and Gas PipelineAug. 1–BRIDGEPORT — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday that the state has joined a 16-state coalition to overturn a ruling that he said brought the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project “to a screeching halt.”

Standing in front of others supporting the move at a Bridgeport press conference, Morrisey said his office filed a brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he was optimistic because he thought the 16 states were “right on the law.”

The 16 states are urging the U.S. Supreme Court “to review, and ultimately overturn,” the ruling that halted construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to Morrisey.

“We’re asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case,” he said. “First, they have to agree to hear it, then they’ll ultimately rule on the merits.”

The coalition’s brief “argues a federal appeals court was inaccurate in ruling the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline rights-of-way through forestland beneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.”

As designed, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will transport natural gas through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties en route to Virginia and North Carolina.

“Now, in layman’s terms, the folks challenging these actions — the ones challenging the pipeline — they want to make all federal land along the Appalachian Trail an impenetrable barrier,” he said.

If things stand as they are, he said there would be “a significant setback for energy development in our state and our country.”

Morrisey said the 600-mile pipeline crosses the trail at “just one place” that “straddles two slivers of Virginia counties.”

“Most importantly, not only does the pipeline never touch the trail, it goes about 600 feet beneath it using a horizontal directional drill,” he said. “That means there’s going to be zero impact to the trail.”

Morrisey said he loves the great outdoors like others who also feel deeply about it, but said “we also have to ensure there’s energy development in our state and in our country.”

“And if you were to use some of these national trails and set them up as barriers where you effectively can’t go over, under, around, through, that’s a very big problem,” he said. “And it’s a problem for a lot of reasons. It’s a problem for the state of West Virginia. West Virginia’s working overtime to try to grow economically. You hear all the stats about West Virginia being at the bottom of a lot of these lists. I think you’re seeing some movement in recent years. You’re seeing an uptick.”

He said there’s been a lot of work in the energy industry.

“We know that part of the reason for the state budget surplus is because of the gas and the Marcellus region and all the economic activity that’s related to that,” he said. “We need that to continue.”

“It’s also critical because when you have a pipeline, you have a lot of good-paying jobs,” he said. He said people making the high wages are able to feed their families, which he said is critical.

He said West Virginia is at a very critical point in its history.

Morrisey said it’s important that the state grow its “people resources” to make sure it’s not left behind.

“Now, because the 4th Circuit wrongly decided this case, many of the hardworking men and women have left behind their families to find work in other states in the union,” he said.

He said the pipeline is a chance for West Virginia to address the poverty that has affected the Mountain State.

“When you can provide those kind of good-paying jobs, and the revenue to the local counties in the state, that would make all the difference in the world,” he said.

Speaking of the economic impact of the pipeline in terms of not only jobs but revenue from income and property taxes, he gave a concrete example of how local counties could be affected.

“It means that if you’re in Lewis County, and maybe you want to put a little bit more effort into fighting the drug epidemic, you want to hire another deputy sheriff, you want to purchase more cruisers, that extra million dollars or more, depending on what county you’re in, that can make all the difference in the world,” he said.

“The economic activity that will flow from this pipeline, I think, we can’t even quantify here today,” he said.

One of the people speaking after Morrisey, Cindy Whetsell, director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority, said, “We are West Virginians and we deserve the best.”

“We deserve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built and operational,” she said.

She said Lewis County would be home to nearly 20 miles of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a compressor station.

“This is estimated to bring an additional $4 million dollars annually to the county tax base,” she said. “This is revenue that we should have realized this year, but stalls creating idle work sites have robbed our communities and our citizens of opportunity. This is much-needed revenue to ensure a quality of life, to provide future growth and to educate our children.”

While Morrisey touted filing the brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, environmental groups are watching the case move through the courts.

“The West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club is deeply disappointed that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey continues his tradition of wasting state resources in pursuit of legal decisions which would harm the people of West Virginia,” stated Justin Raines, member engagement chair at the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, via email.

“Today’s attempt to convince the courts to subvert environmental laws in order to ram through fracked gas pipelines is the type of political grandstanding we have sadly come to expect from an Attorney General who is also abusing his office in an attempt to strip 184,000 West Virginians of health insurance,” Raines continued..

“We trust that the courts will uphold the decisions of the Fourth Circuit to require agencies regulating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to follow environmental law and protect our communities,” Raines said.

In response, Curtis Johnson, Morrisey’s press secretary, said, “This isn’t about the environment. Attorney General Morrisey is a strong advocate of the Appalachian Trail and the national trail system. This pipeline would have no negative implications on the trail as it would be hundreds of feet beneath the surface. It is sad that these groups are misguided and willing to put the jobs of so many hard working West Virginians at risk.”

Other states joining the West Virginia-led brief are Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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Pickups drive Fiat Chrysler to record second quarter [The Detroit News]

Jul. 31–Pickup sales are keeping Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV trucking, despite a sales slowdown weighing on the broader industry.

The Italian-American automaker on Wednesday reported a 14% year-over-year profit increase and its best-ever second quarter in North America, fueled by the new heavy-duty Ram and Jeep Gladiator pickups. The results prompted FCA to maintain its guidance for the year, even as such rivals as Ford Motor Co. decreased their forecasts for the year.

“Overall I would say we are pleased with our second results, which were in line with our second-quarter expectations,” FCA CEO Mike Manley said on a call Wednesday. “It gives us some strong momentum as we enter the second half of the year, particularly when you consider the significant reduction in dealer stock in the quarter.”

One year after Manley took over the automaker’s helm days ahead of the unexpected death of longtime CEO Sergio Marchionne, the automaker still is looking to get a greater foothold in China, turn around its European business and keep the cash flowing from North America to fund progress on electrification and self-driving technology.

FCA earned $1.7 billion (1.6 billion euros) in North America and posted an 8.9% pre-tax margin, up from 8% a year ago. The automaker’s U.S. vehicle shipments fell 12% from dealer stock reductions, as the company looks to reduce heavy inventory numbers.

North America was again the bottom-line driver, as the region accounted for all of quarterly” pre-tax earnings, CFRA Research analyst Garrett Nelson wrote in a note lowering by $2 the automaker’s price target. FCA’s “performance relative to peers will begin to reflect its product momentum from the Jeep Gladiator introduction and surging Ram pickup sales,” he added.

The automaker’s shares closed up 1.7% Wednesday at $13.19, despite a down day in the markets.

FCA booked an $884 million (793 million euro) net income in the second quarter of the year. The Ram pickup trucks were the only FCA brand to post a sales increase (28%) over the first half of the year. Light-duty trucks, including the new Gladiator, accounted for nearly 92% of sales in the second quarter, which raised the company’s average transaction price more than 8% year over year to $40,456, according to auto resource website Edmunds.com. The Gladiator exceeded expectations, Manley said, notching a 7.7% share of the U.S. segment in June.

The Ram pickup maintained its spot as the No. 2-selling truck in the United States in the second quarter. It surpassed the Chevrolet Silverado in the first three months of the year, though it still trails the Ford F-Series.

To keep it that way, Manley said he expects to continue running the older model Ram 1500 at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant as long as there still is demand. He noted FCA could add updates to the classic version and continue selling it at a lower price.

Meanwhile, high inventories, trade hostilities and decreasing global auto demands will make for greater challenges with investments in future technology and negotiations currently ongoing with the United Auto Workers. Although the automaker has worked to decrease its inventory levels, it on average took 108 days to get vehicles off dealer lots compared to the industry average of 77, according to Edmunds.

“It’s not all good news for FCA, as inventory levels are higher than they should be,” Jeremy Acevedo, senior manager of insights at Edmunds, said in a statement ahead of earnings. “FCA is getting away with not spending as much on incentives right now thanks to strong new truck sales, but as we progress further into the year they’re really going to need to step it up in order to start moving everything else off dealer lots.”

The automaker reported $29.8 billion (26.7 billion euros) in revenue for April, May and June. Its second-quarter results were down 3% from the same period of 2018. FCA also reported $1.7 billion (1.5 billion euros) in adjusted earnings before interest and taxes, a slight decrease from a year ago.

Adjusted diluted earnings per share were 56 cents (0.50 euros), up 14% from the second quarter of 2018. Industrial free cash-flow was down 50% to $840 million (754 million euros) from payments related to alleged cheating on diesel emissions testing and higher capital expenditures.

The company in its second quarter secured state and local support for the expansion of its Mack Avenue Engine Complex on Detroit’s east side for production of the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee and a three-row full-size Jeep SUV. It is part of a $4.5 billion investment into five Michigan plants, including the nearby Jefferson North Assembly, which makes the Dodge Durango and Grand Cherokee. The plants will be upgraded to allow for hybrid versions of their vehicles and eventually all-electric models. Production is expected by late 2020 or early 2021.

FCA plans to introduce 17 electric nameplates by 2022. It expects to be fully compliant with European carbon emissions limitations toward the end of 2020 with an up-to 5% electric sales mix with credit purchases, Manley said. The company made agreements costing $2 billion (1.8 billion euros) over the next three years to buy emissions-related regulatory credits in North America and from Tesla Inc. in Europe. Not meeting the requirements could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

“What we’re looking at from where we sit today is a progressive transition,” Manley said, “with the right investments in our electric vehicle fleet to the backend of 2021-22 where we will through our own products be completely compliant.”

FCA lost a potentially major partner in its electrification efforts after FCA revoked its offer last month to merge with French automaker Renault SA over political challenges. Although the automakers’ executives have said they hope to resume talks, the deal appears dead for now, Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré said Friday.

The scale of such a merger that would have created the third-largest automaker in the world remains compelling, Manley said.

“The opportunity was a great opportunity for us and, we believe, a great opportunity for Renault,” he said. “It was not a necessary step for us in how we develop our business going forward. We have a relatively robust business plan that survives without the merger.”

FCA earned $25 million (22 million euros) before taxes in Europe after restructuring in the first quarter. It lost $13 million (12 million euros) in Asia in the second quarter. The company made some leadership changes to its decade-old joint venture with China’sGuangzhou Automobile Group in April to “more rapidly respond to changes in the Chinese market.”

Latin America had pre-tax earnings of $122 million (110 million euros). Stock reductions and sales declines put the Maserati luxury sports-car brand at a loss of $133 million (119 million euros). Manley said he expects a more positive story for the brand next year, when the company begins 10 product introductions through 2023.

Crosstown rival Ford reported its second-quarter profits slid 86% in the second quarter to $148 million. General Motors Co. releases its earnings Thursday.

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Fiat Chrysler’s second-quarter profits pushed up by Ram trucks [Detroit Free Press]

Jul. 31–It’s been mostly about Ram at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles this year.

The automaker’s truck brand has been a solid performer for the company in the United States in 2019, and that, along with some help from the Jeep Gladiator midsize truck, has gone a long way toward boosting FCA’s fortunes.

Now, it appears FCA’s leadership could be considering updates to its Ram Classic, the older version of the Ram 1500. The two versions have helped Ram beat the Chevy Silverado in U.S. sales to take the No. 2 spot behind the Ford F-150.

FCA CEO Mike Manley, during a conference call following FCA’s second-quarter earnings release Wednesday, said the Classic would continue to be produced at the automaker’s Warren Truck Assembly as long as it makes business sense.

Manley said the dynamic between the Classic and the new Ram 1500 appears to be working well in showrooms.

The Ram brand figured prominently in boosting the bottom line for the Italian-American automaker in its latest earnings report. The company touted record second-quarter results in North America, despite a drop in sales.

The company reported net profit of $884 million (793 million euro), up 14%, with adjusted earnings before interest and taxes of $1.7 billion (1.53 billion euro), which is flat, and net revenues of $29.8 billion (26.7 billion euro), down 3%, from the same period in 2018.

Earnings per share of 56 cents (.50 euro) were up 14%.

Manley touted the company’s strength in its most profitable market.

“We continue to deliver strong performance in North America and (Latin America). Robust demand for our new products, along with steps we’ve taken to exert discipline across all of our businesses, have generated the momentum to achieve our full-year 2019 guidance,” Manley said in the release.

For North America, the company had adjusted EBIT of $1.7 billion (1.6 billion euro), up from $1.4 billion in the same period in 2018. The company noted that shipments were down 12%, primarily due to dealer stock reductions (down 80,000 units from the first quarter), partially offset by increased Ram pickup truck volumes and production ramp-up of the all-new Jeep Gladiator.

In addition, U.S. dealers started to receive the redesigned Ram Heavy Duty pickups, adding to its updated truck portfolio.

Challenging areas

Europe and Asia remain “works in progress” and Maserati had a “challenging quarter,” although during the conference call, Manley said the luxury brand is expected to return to profitability next year.

Regarding Europe, Manley said the company would need to become less reliant on Italy and improve sales in other major markets in the region.

The company saw its shipments drop worldwide to 1.2 million, down 11%.

The release of FCA’s results follows Ford’s second-quarter earnings by a week. Ford said its profits took a hit on $1.2 billion in special charges primarily related to its restructuring efforts in Europe although its earnings before interest and taxes were flat at $1.7 billion compared to the same period in 2018. GM is scheduled to release its earnings for the quarter on Thursday. The earnings reports come as the Detroit Three begin contract negotiations with the UAW, whose members are in no mood for concessions after strong profits during the four-year contract that expires in September.

Jon Gabrielsen, a market analyst and auto adviser, said FCA faces a similar situation as Ford and GM — strong North American performance and challenges elsewhere — but can also claim a key difference.

“The advantage that FCA has over its Detroit Three siblings is that unlike the other two, FCA has very substantially increased its market share over the current economic/auto cycle driven by its Jeep and Ram brands, while the other two have generally declined in share,” Gabrielsen said. “In terms of current and future earnings in both boom times, and particularly the bust times coming, nothing is better than the rising market share of FCA in North America, and nothing is worse than the opposite. Indeed, FCA’s fitness through the next downturn comes down to the extent that gains in North America can offset the weaknesses in the rest of FCA’s world.”

FCA’s U.S. market share for the first half of 2019 is 13%, up by almost an additional half since 2009.

Jeep’s gains

Jeep, arguably FCA’s strongest brand, has seen a sales slide this year, down 8% through June, but the brand has helped maintain the company’s market share.

Jeep has increased its U.S. SUV market share points by 45% over the last 10 years, since the last downturn trough. It continued to consolidate and maintain those gains in the second quarter of 2019 and the first half. In addition, Jeep continues to export over 40,000 Jeeps per quarter to Europe. Indeed, if it were not for Jeeps built in the USA and exported to Europe and sold there, FCA would have lost market share in Europe over the last decade, rather than being relatively flat due entirely to the addition of more and more Jeeps each year,” Gabrielsen said.

David Kudla, CEO and chief investment strategist for Mainstay Capital Management, pointed to a challenging environment for FCA in both the United States and Europe but noted that other automakers are feeling the heat as well.

“The macro environment is tough for automakers right now. The headwinds in this industry are persistent,” Kudla said in a note ahead of the earnings release. “We are past peak auto and seeing demand contract in the U.S. All major auto companies have pivoted toward Auto 2.0 and the industry is in the midst of a tectonic shift. Until these companies can transform themselves, Wall Street will continue to question their future. Fiat Chrysler is no exception.”

Part of the challenge will be addressing the cost of electrification, one of the key paths to meeting emissions requirements, especially in Europe. Manley indicated that FCA would be compliant with its own vehicles — rather than working with automakers such as Tesla to do so — by 2022.

FCA’s plans include production of a plug-in Jeep Wrangler next year.

However, the “impact of electrification will be significant in terms of overall cost” to the company, said Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer.

Attempts to address the demands of expensive electrification and autonomous vehicle development have pushed automakers to consider tie-ups, such as the recent failed attempt to merge FCA with Renault.

Manley said FCA remains open to opportunities and the specifics of the Renault deal made sense. However, he said consolidation is not a necessity for FCA, which has a “robust business plan.”

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence. Read more Free Press coverage by signing up for our autos newsletter.

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National Oilwell Varco posts nearly $5.4 billion loss during second quarter

Oilfield worker is checking the oilfield equipment

Jul. 30–Houston oilfield service company National Oilwell Varco reported a multibillion loss during the second quarter amid what executives are calling a “generational oilfield downturn.”

NOV reported a nearly $5.39 billion loss on $2.13 billion of revenue during the second quarter. The figures translated into a $14.11 loss per share.

The second quarter earnings were mixed compared to the $24 million profit on $2.1 billion of revenue.

Although NOV beat Wall Street expectations of $2.09 billion of revenue, the company fell far below the expected loss per share of 6 cents.

National Oilwell Varco CEO Clay Williams described the second quarter results as part of a generational oilfield downturn. The company evaluated the carrying value of its long-lived assets amid market indicators hitting new decade-lows. Based on the evaluation, the company recorded a charge of $5.37 billion to write down goodwill, intangible assets and fixed assets — on top of $399 million in restructuring charges and $11 million in other costs.

“Though we are well-positioned to support growth in the offshore and international markets as customers increase activity after years of curtailed spending, severe capital austerity and lower activity in North America are resulting in a rapid change in our business mix,” Williams said in a statement. “This presents NOV with both opportunities and challenges.”

Williams is expected to speak about restructuring and layoffs during an earnings call scheduled for Tuesday morning. The company holds $2.48 billion of debt but has $3 billion of credit and another $1.13 billion of cash.

With historical roots going back to 1862, NOV is headquartered in Houston and has more than 35,000 employees in 65 nations.

NOV reported a $31 million loss on $8.5 billion of revenue in 2018. The company has not made an annual profit since 2014.

Read the latest oil and gas news from HoustonChronicle.com

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U.S. Small Business Administration adjusts small-business size standards for inflation

Small Business Loan

Jul. 30–The U.S. Small Business Administration recently issued an interim final rule that will adjust monetary-based small-business size standards for inflation to allow more small businesses to become eligible for the SBA’s loan and contracting programs. The interim final rule was published in the Federal Register on July 18.

The SBA is adjusting its industry-specific monetary-based size standards by nearly 8.4% to reflect the inflation that has occurred since the last adjustment in 2014. This time, the SBA is also adjusting the revenues-based size standards for agricultural industries, which were previously set by statute. These adjusted size standards will become effective on Aug. 19 and will be reviewed again as part of the second five-year review of size standards mandated by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

Additionally, the SBA is adjusting program-specific monetary-based size standards by the same amount for sales or leases of government property and stockpile purchases. The SBA is not adjusting the tangible net worth and net income based interim alternative size standards that apply to the SBA-guaranteed 7(a) and 504 Certified Development Company loan programs, which were established under the Small Business Jobs Act.

The interim alternative size standards for the 7(a) and 504 loan programs will remain in effect until the SBA establishes a permanent alternative size standard for these programs. The SBA is also not adjusting the tangible net worth and net income based alternative size standard for the Small Business Investment Company program.

The SBA estimates that nearly 90,000 additional businesses will gain small business status under the adjusted size standards, becoming eligible for SBA loan and contracting programs. This could possibly lead to as much as $750 million in additional federal contracts awarded to small businesses and up to 120 additional small business loans totaling nearly $65 million.

Comments can be submitted on this interim final rule by Sept. 16, 2019, at www.regulations.gov, identified with the following RIN number: RIN 3245-AH17. Interested parties may also mail comments to Khem R. Sharma, Chief, Office of Size Standards, 409 Third St. SW, Mail Code 6530, Washington, D.C. 20416.

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Surf’s Up: Second wave of LNG is here

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Tank Petroleum Refining OperationJul. 26–The long-anticipated “second wave” of liquefied natural gas projects is here as tsunami of final investments decisions get made and construction contracts awarded, executives and analysts said.

With construction of export terminals sanctioned during the first wave nearing completion, a second round of large LNG export projects are planned from the Texas Gulf Coast to Africa to the Arctic Circle. A joint venture between Exxon Mobil made a final investment decision in February on the $10 billion Golden Pass LNG export terminal in the southeast corner of Texas. The Woodlands oil and gas company Anadarko reached a final investment in June for the its $20 billion offshore Mozambique LNG project in southeast Africa.

Earlier this week, Russian natural gas company Novatek awarded a $7.6 billion construction contract to oilfield service company TechnipFMC to build the Arctic LNG 2 export terminal on the Gydan Peninsula of Siberia. The Arctic Circle project follows a contract Anadarko awared to TechnipFMC for the offshore work as part of the Mozambique LNG project.

Those contracts helped TechnipFMC, which has headquarters in Houston, London and Paris, break company records for new orders. Executives said the contracts were proof that LNG’s second wave was underway.

More Information

“Over the last 18 months, there has been considerable market focus on the LNG wave,” TechnipFMC CEO Doug Pferdehirt said during a Thursday call with investors. “The LNG market growth continues to be underpinned by the structural shift towards natural gas as an energy transition fuel helping to meet the increasing demand for energy while lowering greenhouse gases.”

Industry observers agree. A recent report from global energy research firm Wood Mackenzie estimates that the industry will invest more than $200 billion on LNG projects between 2019 and 2025. But challenges remain. Among them: cost overruons.

The LNG industry is notorious for running behind schedule and over budget. Only 10 percent of all LNG projects have been completed under budget, while 60 percent have experienced delays.

“The many projects jostling for final investment decision right now have low headline costs, but in light of the historical reality of LNG construction, some project delays are likely,” said Liam Kelleher, senior global LNG analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

Although many of its competitors build LNG plants from the ground up and entirely on site in a process known in the industry as “stick building,” Pferdehirt said TechnipFMC would use large-scale fabrication of modular components that can be shipped and easily assembled in harsh environments such as Siberia, where the company previously built the Yamal LNG export terminal Novatek using the same approach.

“Many of the LNG projects that are being considered today are still stick built, they are not modularized,” Pferdehirt said. “There is increasing activity in the fabrication yards. Because of the success that we had — not only on Yamal LNG — but on other subsea and onshore/offshore projects where we focused on modularization, I think we have — we have demonstrated experience and we have very good relationships with those yards.”

In a recent report, James West, an analyst with the investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI, estimated that nearly two-thirds of the costs of building an LNG plant come from construction and equipment, p;roviding business opportunities for oilfield services companies. Athough the coming build out is expected to benefit many firms in the sector, West believes that Baker Hughes of Houston TechnipFMC and Chart Industries of Georgia will benefit from the second wave more than their peers.

Using a fabrication yard in Italy, Baker Hughes makes modular and emissions-reducing turbines that can be shipped to LNG plants being built around the world and easily connected to other equipment. Chart Industries makes equipment widely used by the industry to convert natural gas to a liquid while TechnipFMC is regarded as a top engineering, procurement and construction company.

West said the market is underestimated the impact that TechnipFMC is having in the development of LNG projects.

“The company is driving structural change in both operator efficiencies and cost structure as well as commercial change to how operators develop reserves both onshore and offshore,” West said. “We expect momentum to continue to build in the coming quarters as orders increase for a third straight year, led by major LNG and subsea project bookings.”

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California’s biggest oil spill in decades brings more defiance than anger from locals [Los Angeles Times]

Jul. 28MCKITTRICK, Calif. — Near the jagged western edge of Kern County, where the Temblor Range gives way to a landscape of steam pipes, fuel lines and bobbing pumpjacks, there ‘s a definite mood in this dusty little oil town : Defiance.

Hardly a day goes by without reports of the growing oil leak in nearby Cymric oil field. So far, more than 900, 000 gallons of oil and brine have oozed from a Chevron Corp. well, and filled a dry creek, creating a hazardous black lagoon.

The residents of McKittrick, population 145, understand why people are upset by the images. Also, there ‘s no avoiding the worry that prolonged exposure to crude oil might one day trigger health issues.

But judging from the rowdy talk over cold beers and a blaring jukebox at Mike and Annie ‘s Penny Bar — a watering hole for thirsty oil field hands that has over a million pennies glued to the bar, floors, walls, television and entrance — the locals see a different story playing out.

“Environmentalists have it all wrong, ” argued Troy Smith, 46, an oil field worker who grew up in the area. “Compared with the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and BP ‘s deep- sea spill in the Gulf of Mexico, our little outbreak is nothing. Yet, they ‘re using it as an excuse to shut down California ‘s oil industry and wipe us out.”

“What more do they want ?” he asked no one in particular. “We already work under the strictest standards imaginable, and adhere to them tooth and nail.”

Smith, like many others in McKittrick, was more worried about how the largest California spill in nearly three decades would affect election campaigns and new oil industry legislation in Congress and the state Legislature.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has taken a more anti- oil stance than his predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown, ventured to the spill site for a firsthand look on Wednesday, the sarcastic response heard across town was, “There goes the neighborhood.”

But the future of California ‘s billion- dollar oil industry was already being shaped by shifting political winds, building concerns about toxic emissions from oil and natural production, development of alternative energy facilities and a recent overhaul of the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, the state ‘s primary oil regulatory agency.

California can put a stop to the inevitability of oil spills by intentionally transitioning away from oil extraction, ” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “The state must prioritize our public health and our environment over corporate polluters ‘ profits.”

That kind of talk raises the hackles in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, where oil is an economic and cultural force crucial to the lives of thousands of people.

When retiree Raul Rubio, 67, wants to relax, he leans back in a folding chair in his backyard facing an oil field that is miles long and miles wide. The scenery is perfect for sifting through memories of the 40 years he worked as an oil field operator.

An odd sort of duality permeates his feelings about the ongoing oil spill roughly 3 1/2 miles from his modest wood- framed home.

On one hand, he can recall many industrial accidents over the years that could have had potentially devastating consequence. But he also appreciates the simpler, old- fashioned, slower pace of life.

About 12 years ago, a Cymric well blasted a mixture of oil and water so high that it traveled for miles in the wind. Gooey spots covered the town straddling a lonely stretch of State Highway 33 like leopard spots.

Chevron immediately took responsibility and fixed that well, ” he recalled with a smile. “They also paid to clean our cars and property.”

Around the same time, while making the rounds of another local oil field, he said, “I discovered an oil spill that spilled into a ravine and then flowed for miles. That problem also got fixed right away.”

So, he wasn ‘t all that worried about the ongoing leak at Cymric field. “I know that Chevron is out there cleaning things up, ” he said. “They know what they ‘re doing. If it was a danger to the people living here, they would have notified us.”

Skepticism runs deep here when it comes to environmentalists ‘ warnings about the dangers posed by oil production and an array of unconventional oil and natural gas extraction techniques and their hazardous byproducts on wildlife, air quality, drinking water in underground aquifers and global climate change.

Don ‘t believe it. Not a chance. Life is as safe and peaceful as it always has been, locals like to say.

But anti- oil forces aren ‘t waiting before some of the potential long- lasting impacts from oil wells become evident.

In a state where 5.5 million people live within a mile of an oil well, the Legislature is currently weighing the merits of Assembly Bill 345, which would create 2, 500- foot health and safety buffer zones between new oil and gas wells and sensitive land uses including schools, homes and hospitals.

The bill, written by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D- Rolling Hills Estates ), was inspired, in part, by a Kern County Superior Court ruling in May that the city of Arvin had illegally approved four new wells adjacent to homes and farms already coping with 10 active gas and oil wells, some of them in agricultural fields.

“This case sends a really strong signal that the oil industry cannot just do whatever it wants — it must follow California ‘s environmental laws, ” said Chelsea Tu, senior attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

Separately, Newsom in June signed a state budget that earmarked $1.5 million for an unprecedented study to find ways to reduce California ‘s petroleum production and demand.

A few days later, he fired DOGGR Supervisor Ken Harris for issuing too many permits for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and allegations that several of his regulators own stock in major oil companies.

On his first day on the job, Jason Marshall, who was appointed acting supervisor at DOGGR, ordered Chevron to “take all measures ” to stop the seepage at Cymric field that has continued intermittently for more than two months.

He ‘s been frustrated by an inability to get clear answers to some basic questions : Why hasn ‘t the leak been stoppedWhy did Chevron and state regulators wait two months to formally alert the public about the problem that began on May 10 ?

In an interview, Richard Hinkley, general manager in Chevron ‘s asset development business, said he believes that the seepage started after crews used cement to fortify a dormant well that in 2004 had been taken out of commission and permanently sealed.

Built- up pressure from an oil reservoir under the well, he said, forced liquid — which was about two- thirds water and one- third oil — to the surface through “paths of least resistance, ” including cracks and fissures in the concrete and steel well bore during the cement job.

So far, he said, crews have vacuumed up about 90 % of the fluid that had pooled in the dry creek bed that cuts across the 485- acre oil field.

Chevron initially said the seepage stopped several hours after it was discovered on May 10. However, it reactivated on June 8 after crews conducted tests to determine its cause — and then continued intermittently in the vicinity of the well head.

Two new seepages emerged on July 21, officials said, shortly after Chevron crews completed the cementing operation.

Adjacent wells have been shut down and idled wells activated to ease pressure beneath the ground and reduce surface flows. Air cannons were installed to keep wildlife away. Oil work has been halted within 1, 200 feet of the site.

So far, there are no reported injuries or threats to drinking water aquifers in the region, officials said.

As for Chevron ‘s decision not to formally alert the public, Sean Comey, a spokesman for the giant oil corporation, said, “If there had been any risk to human health we would have responded differently.”

As crews work day and night to plug the leaks, Dave Noerr, mayor of the nearby city of Taft, has been reminding outsiders about the benefits of oil and gas production for jobs and their personal lives.

California is home to 72, 000 oil- producing wells that last year produced 165 million barrels of oil from onshore and offshore facilities, according to the California Department of Conservation. California also consumed 366 million barrels of gas in 2017 — more than any other state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“There was a time when Kern County was the largest oil and gas producing county in the United States outside of Alaska, ” said Noerr. “But oil production has been in decline for some time now, which is too bad because of the employment and sales taxes it generates to support essentials like hospitals and schools.”

Noerr has a personal oil connection : In 1981, he worked as a roustabout in the Kern oil fields. “Man, that was a hot and nasty job in mid- July, ” he said.

Linda L. Hillan, 63, a heavy equipment operator who shares a wood- framed house in McKittrick with a huge cat named “Big Mama, ” wouldn ‘t argue with any of that.

Staring at the darkening clouds of an approaching monsoon that would wash layers of smog and the smell of crankcase oil from the skies on a recent 100- plus- degree afternoon, she grumbled, “Outsiders need to worry about their own backyards — and leave us alone.”

Like most towns, after all, McKittrick is imbued with its own peculiarities.

“There ‘ve been a million oil spills out here over the years, ” she said. “Hell, man, I ‘ve seen wells catch fire and burn for weeks on end. I ‘ve seen leaking oil pouring over a hill behind my house like a waterfall.”

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Louisiana environmental group sues over rollback of offshore drilling rules created after BP spill [NOLA Media Group, New Orleans]

Jul. 28–A Louisiana-based conservation group has filed a lawsuit in federal court in California challenging a rollback of offshore drilling regulations by President Donald Trump’s administration that relaxed the requirements on blowout preventers and real-time monitoring.

Healthy Gulf, formerly known as the Gulf Restoration Network, is one of 10 environmental groups that filed suit last month against Scott Angelle — a former lieutenant governor of Louisiana and a leading gubernatorial candidate in 2015 — in his current role as director of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California on June 11. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is the Sierra Club, based in Oakland, California.

The federal bureau was formed 19 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster in 2010 to oversee safety and environmental protection in offshore energy development. The lawsuit alleges it is now weakening measures deemed necessary after the disaster to reduce the risk of workers’ deaths and oil spills. The changes ease new regulations on some of the practices that led to the spill.

The bureau did not provide adequate reasons for relaxing its rules, said Cyn Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf.

“Without any additional research, the agency is going back on what it said before,” she said. “We just don’t feel like they’ve come up with a sufficient justification for the rollback.”

In 2017, Trump issued an executive order directing the bureau to reexamine the so-called Well Control Rule, which was imposed in the wake of the 2010 spill — the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history — to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.

The order directed the bureau to find ways to encourage energy exploration and production on the Outer Continental Shelf — an area that extends more than 200 miles offshore. The order also called for reducing unnecessary regulation while ensuring that any energy exploration is safe and environmentally responsible.

The rule changes, announced in May, went into effect this month.

Among the changes are the removal of certain requirements for real-time monitoring of offshore operations by onshore engineers; an extension of the date by which blowout preventers must comply with certain requirements; and an avenue for companies to more easily obtain waivers from meeting the minimum “safe drilling margin,” a measure designed to reduce the risk of sudden changes in well pressure that could cause a blowout.

The bureau estimates that the changes will save the industry $152 million in compliance costs annually over 10 years, according to the final rule published in the Federal Register.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobbying group, applauded the changes for providing “a regulatory framework that promotes updated, modern and safe technologies, industry best practices and operations.”

But Donald Boesch, a marine science professor who sat on the national Oil Spill Commission, said he found the revisions short on analysis. The commission, created by former President Barack Obama after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, recommended the reforms now being rolled back.

Boesch said he was most concerned by the changes that weaken real-time monitoring requirements and allow waivers from the safe drilling margin.

Investigations into the spill found that real-time monitoring of rig operations by onshore engineers would have helped offshore workers to identify irregularities in well conditions.

The 2016 safe drilling rule directed operators to maintain a specific margin to ensure that drilling mud exerts enough pressure on the walls of a well to prevent oil or gas from flowing out of the formation, but not so much that it causes the rock formation to fracture.

The rule established a safe drilling margin as one-half pound per gallon between the weight of drilling mud and the amount of pressure a formation can withstand before fracturing.

The Oil Spill Commission found that maintaining a safe drilling margin was fundamental to safety, Boesch said. The commission’s analysis of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe found that operators on the well “were getting to a point where that margin was carelessly close,” Boesch said.

Federal records indicate that it’s not uncommon for operators to drill sections of well below the current standard of 0.5 pounds per gallon. Of the 305 offshore wells drilled between Aug. 1, 2016, and March 22, 2018, 32 were drilled below the safe drilling margin, according to the records.

In public comments on the rule change, some industry officials encouraged the bureau to throw out the safe drilling margin, calling it “arbitrary.”

The bureau opted not to get rid of the guideline, calling the current threshold “an appropriate safe drilling margin for normal drilling scenarios,” according to the bureau. However, the rules were changed to make it easier for oil companies to get waivers that excuse them from the threshold.

Boesch said the thing that “left a burning impression” on him was the fact that the rule changes were explicitly focused on increasing offshore production, which he said is not the bureau’s job.

After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Minerals Management Service, which then oversaw both regulating and marketing offshore drilling, was split to separate its sometimes conflicting missions. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took on the role of offshore development, while the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement took over the task of regulation.

“The logic and reasons given (by the bureau) for the rollbacks were all about efficiency and encouraging production, and that’s not the mission of that agency,” Boesch said.

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Will Detroit debates rev up auto, trade issues among Dem presidential hopefuls? [The Detroit News]

Jul. 26WASHINGTON — Workers, auto industry officials and political experts expect the Democratic presidential candidates will address issues such as trade, auto emissions rules and the future of manufacturing when they debate Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit.

Among the auto-related issues that remain unresolved in Washington, D.C., are a proposed agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, gas mileage rules for rapidly approaching model years and regulations about driverless vehicles.

Republican President Donald Trump won Michigan in part by attacking NAFTA and vowing to force Detroit’s automakers to build more factories in America. The Democratic challengers have made clear they want to retake the state and have attacked Trump as failing to fulfill his promises to the working class.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, who has pushed Democrats to adopt populist trade positions to combat Trump’s appeal in the Midwest, said trade is likely to be a potential flash point between the presidential candidates in Detroit.

“It’s likely to come up, and it should because I think that’s how President Trump won,” Dingell said. “He showed an empathy to people who have been affected by these issues.”

Three CNN debate moderators will be asking the questions to the 20 candidates over two nights and may avoid auto-related topics. But if the Miami debates are any indication, some candidates will look to appeal to unionized workers and target auto issues even on non-automotive queries.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, used the Miami debate stage in June to attack General Motors Co. for idling its Lordstown, Ohio, factory and its 1,800 workers.

Other candidates are likely to try to follow Ryan’s lead in spotlighting auto-related issues in Detroit, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist with the bipartisan Grassroots Midwest political consulting firm in Lansing.

“The candidates are certain to be asked about the auto industry in specific and durable goods manufacturing in general because obviously Michigan and the upper Midwest are very reliant on that,” Hemond said.

“For Democratic candidates looking to pull votes in Michigan and the upper Midwest, they would be well served to talk about that in response to a question about the auto industry or the USMCA” — Trump’s proposed pact to replace NAFTA.

What auto interests seek

Auto industry groups are interested in the Democrats’ policy positions. The Trump administration has pursued looser regulations on emissions and fuel economy in hopes of reducing costs and increasing flexibility for automakers.

The automakers’ primary focus will be on how the candidates’ proposals will affect the overall vitality of the auto sector, said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents domestic and foreign car manufacturers in Washington, D.C.

“Automakers, along with their suppliers and dealers, generate billions of dollars for the US economy and employ tens of thousands of skilled workers in all 50 states,” Bergquist said. … We hope that the candidates recognize the impact of the auto industry on the U.S. economy and keep that in mind when developing their policies.”

Automakers and suppliers are concerned about the views of candidates on trade, currency exchange, fuel economy, greenhouse gas rules and technology policies, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

“They’ll be interested in knowing the candidates’ economic plans — specifically as they relate to U.S. manufacturing and employment and how they plan to address climate change,” Dziczek said.

Another interested group is the United Auto Workers union, which dominates Democratic politics in Michigan and retains influence within the national party. But the UAW didn’t endorse before Michigan’s 2016 primary, when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders upset front runner and eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.

The UAW emphasized trade, increasing workers’ incomes, health care and collective bargaining rights in the 2016 election and its backing of Clinton failed to stop Trump from prevailing in Michigan by 10,704 votes.

The union didn’t respond to a request for comment.

GM plant idlings

One hot-button issue that could arise again in the Detroit debates is GM’s idling of four plants in the United States and Canada, and its hope of selling another one in Lordstown, Ohio to an electric truck maker. Lordstown is one of four U.S. plants whose futures will be decided in national contract talks between GM and the union.

Trump initially attacked GM CEO Mary Barra and UAW leaders for failing to stop the Lordstown idling. The president said in a March trip to Ohio that the union’s leaders “could have kept (GM) in that gorgeous plant in Lordstown” and he attacked Barra for the factory idlings as the rest of the economy grows.

GM notes it has invested $570 million in Michigan and $700 million in Ohio so far in 2019. The company says 1,700 employees from its idled plants, including nearly 1,000 Lordstown employees, have accepted transfers to one of the company’s other plants.

The UAW has said it would prefer GM restart the Lordstown factory and commit to producing a vehicle there.

Ryan, who represents the district with the Lordstown plant, at the time called Trump’s criticism “offensive and does nothing to help bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised to my district.”

During the Miami debate, Ryan attacked GM and Trump.

“And his administration just in the last two years, we lost 4,000 jobs out of the General Motors facility,” he said. “That rippled throughout our community. General Motors got a tax cut, General Motors got a bailout. And then they have the audacity to move a new car that they’re going to produce to Mexico.”

For Ryan, the issue is personal.

“I’ve had family members that have had to unbolt a machine from the factory floor, put it in a box, and ship it to China,” he said at the June debate.

Trade issues

The Trump administration has pressured Congress to approve a new U.S. Mexico Canada trade agreement that is supposed to replace the NAFTA agreement that Trump campaigned against three years ago.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has defended his support of NAFTA when he was a senator in 1993, saying it “made sense at the moment.”

Other Democratic presidential hopefuls, especially Sanders, have attacked Trump’s proposed NAFTA replacement. “Do not send it to Congress unless it includes strong and swift enforcement mechanisms to raise the wages of workers and stop corporations from outsourcing American jobs to Mexico,” the self-declared democratic socialist said during an April campaign stop in Macomb County.

The agreement, now before Congress, calls for increasing from 62.5% to 75% the percentage of a car’s parts that have to come from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. Additionally, the USMCA requires that 40-45% of an auto’s content be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour.

It contains provisions to protect up to 2.6 million cars and $32.4 billion worth of parts imported from Canada and Mexico from tariffs on imported vehicles that are being considered separately by the Trump administration. Vehicles not meeting the requirements would be subject to a 2.5% duty.

The Democrats have called for action to reduce climate change, which could spark discussion about the Trump administration’s effort to roll back stringent gas mileage rules that were adopted by the Obama administration.

The Trump administration announced last year its intention to ease stringent gas-mileage rules that would have required fleets averaging nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration proposed a freeze to keep the automakers to an average fleetwide fuel economy of 39 miles per gallon from next year through 2026.

In a high-profile rebuke of the Trump administration, four of the nation’s biggest carmakers reached an agreement on gas mileage rules with California on Thursday. The plan calls for them to voluntarily increase the average fuel economy of their fleets to about 50 miles per gallon by the end of the 2026 model year, despite the Trump administration’s roll back efforts.

The deal, negotiated directly between the California Air Resources Board and Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG, could undercut the Trump administration’s mileage rules.

Environmentalists are hoping the Democratic hopefuls promise to reinstate stringent gas mileage rules for all automakers, said Ariel Hayes, national political director of the Sierra Club.

“With transportation being the leading source of carbon pollution, the continued transition to cleaner vehicles is not merely an obligation but a huge opportunity for Detroit,” Hayes said. “The next president has the chance to help revitalize Detroit with investments in the burgeoning electric vehicle market and we fully expect that to be a major topic of conversation in the weeks and months ahead.”

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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Touring oil spill site, Newsom calls for greater oversight of California petroleum industry [Los Angeles Times]

MCKITTRICK, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom, in the Central Valley on Wednesday for a firsthand look at one of the largest oil spills in California history, vowed to go beyond the state’s already aggressive efforts to curtail the use of fossil fuels and seek a long-term strategy to reduce oil production.

Newsom also signaled a sharp break with that past by criticizing existing oversight of the oil industry as too permissive. He promised to begin by retooling the state’s top oil regulatory agency, state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The Democratic governor made the comments after arriving in the Kern County town of McKittrick on a 100-plus-degree afternoon, just a few miles from the Chevron oil well field where roughly a million gallons spilled into a dry creek bed. Chevron officials blamed the spill — with was about two-thirds water and one-third oil — on an old well that the company recently recapped.

Although Newsom called for greater oversight of oil production, he was careful not to cast himself as an industry opponent. He made note of the local jobs sustained by petroleum production, and he praised both Chevron and state agencies for working to stem and contain the seeping liquid. He added that there was no indication that the spill threatened wildlife or aquifers that supply drinking water for local communities.

Still, he said, another major seepage is always possible.

Newsom, who took office in January, said the spill had refocused attention on California’s billion-dollar oil industry and its place in a state striving to end its dependence on fossil fuels and convert to 100% renewable energy.

“I want to focus not just on demand but supply, and that, I think, is a new approach in this state with this new administration,” the governor told The Times.

Environmental groups have been lobbying Newsom to ban new wells and curtail oil production. The leadership of the governor’s own political party has called for the immediate end of the controversial fracking method of oil extraction, a process that uses drilling and large volumes of high-pressure water to pump oil and gas from the ground.

Newsom has rebuffed those efforts, saying any action the state takes must be thoughtful, realistic and account for thousands of Californians who depend on the oil industry to make a living.

The governor, who began his visit Wednesday at McKittrick Elementary School, noted that historical pictures of oil derricks lined the school’s hallways — evidence of how engrained the petroleum industry is in the local economy.

“With respect, drive around. There are not a lot of alternative strategies for economic growth here,” Newsom said. “Before we turn off the tap, what’s the plan to take care of the folks here? What’s the plan to take care of the workers? If you can’t look people in the eye and say you have an answer to that, then I think you’re doing a disservice to people in the community, and I can’t do that.”

Newsom emphasized that $1.5 million has been set aside in the state budget, approved by the Legislature and signed by him in June, to study ways to reduce petroleum demand and production in the state, taking into consideration the effects on the economy, jobs and Californians.

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity said the study is a good first step but added that California cannot afford to wait to take action. Siegel and other environmental leaders want Newsom to impose a moratorium on fracking and all new oil wells.

“When you’re in a hole, the first step is to stop digging,” Siegel said. “There should be no more expansion of oil production. There’s no way to keep California safe from this industry other than phasing it out.”

Newsom said state law prohibits him from doing that by executive fiat and that legislative action would be required.

The effort to sway Newsom follows an unsuccessful campaign by environmental activists, community groups and labor unions that tried to persuade then-Gov. Jerry Brown to freeze all new oil and gas drilling during his final year in office. While praised for helping California become a world leader in combating climate change, Brown has come under attack for not reining in the state’s oil industry.

“There’s been a cozy relationship that the Brown administration and California have had with the oil industry, and I think those days are gone,” said state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).

Wieckowski wrote legislation that would charge a 10% tax on every barrel of oil pumped from the ground in California to bring in some $900 million annually, part of which can be used to increase regulatory oversight of oil production, he said.

Earlier this month, Newsom fired California’s top oil industry regulator for issuing too many permits for hydraulic fracturing, as fracking is formally known. He said he intends to reshape leadership of the agency to increase regulatory oversight of the oil industry.

California is one of the nation’s top petroleum-producing — and gasoline-consuming — states, pitting an essential ingredient of the California economy and everyday lifestyles against overwhelming public sentiment for curtailing the use of fossil fuels.

In 2018, Brown and the Legislature adopted an ambitious goal to covert California to a 100%, zero-carbon electrical supply by 2045. A 2016 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that most likely voters in the state opposed fracking and increased oil drilling off the coast. A vast majority also favored stricter emission limits on power plants in an effort to address climate change.

Still, California is home to 26 million vehicles with internal-combustion engines, and the oil industry helps support close to 368,000 blue-collar jobs in the state, according to the Western States Petroleum Assn.

California is home to 72,000 oil-producing wells that last year produced 165.3 million barrels of oil from onshore and offshore facilities, according to the California Department of Conservation. California also consumes more gasoline than any other state — 366,000 barrels in 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

According to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, known as DOGGR, more than 120,000 wells in the state have been plugged, the legacy of more than a century of oil drilling.

The Chevron-owned well where the spill occurred last drew oil in 2003 and was sealed with cement some time after, according to state data. It sits alongside more than 3,600 other plugged wells in the Cymric oil field in Kern County, most of which are Chevron’s.

An additional 400 wells in the field sit inactive, not producing oil and waiting to be sealed. Nearly all of the wells in the Cymric field are operated by some of the state’s biggest producers: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Sentinel Peak.

Wade Crowfoot, California secretary for natural resources, said the state is still trying to determine the cause of the spill and whether the oil company’s use of steam injection in the area was a contributing factor. State officials already have demanded all the data collected by Chevron about the spill to help with the state’s independent review of the incident.

Times staff writer Ryan Menezes contributed to this report.

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