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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.”

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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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James Gill: BP has had a tough time winning fans in Louisiana. But what do the Brits think? [NOLA Media Group, New Orleans]

Jul. 25–Nine years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and caused the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, BP can’t seem to buy redemption.

That’s true in Louisiana, although not because anyone has been inclined to refuse the money BP has offered or been ordered to pay as atonement for its grievous sins. The $65 billion BP has shelled out has meant huge windfalls for plenty of people, many of them quite undeserving.

It is also true that BP can’t buy redemption at home in Britain. Thousands of miles from the waters contaminated by the spill, its main concern is the taint to its reputation, and moola is the answer there too. The amounts are minuscule by comparison, but large enough for the recipients, major theaters, galleries and museums, to claim the cultural life of BP‘s homeland would be much diminished without them.

BP is thus a civilizing influence on a society that could not function without the energy it produces, or so goes the company line.

The company’s detractors see things differently. They call BP‘s art sponsorship “artwashing” or “greenwashing.” The intent, they say, is to create a respectable veneer for a greedy monster bent on raping and destroying the planet.

Louisiana has traditionally welcomed Big Oil as an economic savior, a major creator of jobs and a contributor to various civic causes. Certainly all the politicians in its pocket were keen to make the argument that its benign influence far outweighed any environmental damage it caused. As for anthropogenic climate change, it was easier for the oil companies to deny their role in it so long as the White House maintained there was no such thing.

The deniers have pretty much lost that argument as extreme weather grows more frequent. New Orleans came close to disaster when, with the river unseasonably high, Barry decided to drop his rain offshore, sparing us the flooding that could have been worse than Katrina. But clearly our luck cannot last forever. Thus our attitude to Big Oil grows increasingly ambivalent, even while British opinion is split over whether BP is an acceptable patron of the arts.

BP is not the only oil company in environmentalists’ bad graces, and Deepwater Horizon is far from its only offense. But the spill is the biggest single reason to hate Big Oil and rates a mention whenever some cultural icon quits one of the institutions BP subsidizes. The most recent departures in protest at BP‘s sponsorship are the Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif from the Board of Trustees at the British Museum. Rylance explained, “I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who willfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn.”

Equating a tank of gas with weapons of war is, perhaps, a bit of a stretch, but then hyperbole is Rylance’s stock in trade.

In her resignation letter, Soueif wrote, “Schools bring children to the British Museum — the same children who are now living in existential dread of climate change. How do they respond to BP‘s logo on the museum’s headline exhibitions?”

BP had been sponsoring high-profile British cultural organizations for many years before Deepwater Horizon, but has stepped up its efforts since. A couple of years ago the company quit supporting the Tate Art Gallery, site of many an environmentalist protest, but has retained what it must regard as prestigious links with the likes of the Royal Opera and the National Portrait Gallery.

The sums involved — a few hundred thousand here, and a few hundred thousand there — mean little to a company that employs 70,000 people around the world and reported profits of $10 billion last year.

Whatever goodwill is generated by arts sponsorship cannot overcome growing unease over what fossil fuels are doing to our natural surroundings. A shareholder revolt has seen BP eager to present itself as a green influence and it has just announced plans to beef up ethanol production in Brazil from sugar cane, which absorbs carbon as it grows.

Look at all the cane fields in Louisiana. Maybe redemption is there.

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2A expanding Auburn foundry, to hire 50 [Alabama Media Group, Birmingham]

Jul. 23–Italian auto supply firm 2A S.p.A. announced today a $15 million expansion of its Auburn foundry. The company plans to hire 50 people, doubling its die-casting area.

As a Tier 1 supplier to automobiles and heavy truck makers, 2A will install new equipment including the largest standard high-pressure die-casting machines on the market. The first of them will be operational by March 2020.

The machines are capable of exerting pressures on dies of between 1,000 and 2,700 tons, as well as 4,500 tons, The Auburn foundry serves original equipment manufacturers including FCA Group (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), Freightliner Trucks and engine maker Detroit Diesel Corp., with new customers expected to be added.

Gov. Kay Ivey, announcing the expansion, said “2A has earned a reputation for technical innovation, and its decision to expand its Alabama manufacturing operation is a testament to its skilled workforce in Auburn.”

2A’s parent company, headquartered in Santena, near Turin, is Italy’s biggest privately owned high-pressure die-casting industrial company. Its president, Vincenzo Ilotte, said the company is “very proud of our location in Auburn.”

“Without the great support from the State of Alabama and the City of Auburn, this would not have been possible.”

2A USA has operated in Alabama since 2014, when it acquired a plant operated by Aluminum Technology Schmid North America in Auburn Technology Park West.

Alabama’s auto supply chain continues to grow in scope and sophistication as companies such as 2A expand their operations in the state,” Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said. “2A’s new investment not only positions its Auburn plant for job creation but also solidifies the company’s presence in the state.”


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Truck dealerships coming Carlsbad, El Paso to meet oilfield demands [Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M.]

Jul. 19–A Houston-based truck manufacturer is planning to open dealerships in Carlsbad and El Paso, adding to its offerings in New Mexico and Texas.

Leslie Doggett Industries acquired Truck Enterprises Inc, per a Tuesday news release, planning its third location in El Paso, and adding one in Carlsbad.

The company planned to operate the dealerships under the Truck Enterprises banner.

“Doggett will roll out our independent used truck and trailer model through this acquisition which will compliment and build on the celebrated history of Truck Enterprises created and nurtured by founders Lanny and Linda Golucke,” said Doggett General Counsel William Doggett.

The acquisition included an authorized Western Star, Detroit Diesel and extreme heavy-duty trailer deal located in El Paso and Carlsbad, the release read.

The location in Carlsbad was a new market for Doggett, said spokesperson Libby Covington, and the company moved in to take advantage of an oil and gas boom in the Permian Basin.

“We see great opportunity in this market due to this giving our company an entrance into servicing our oil and gas industry customers in the Permian basin out of Carlsbad,” she said. “With the large amount of oil and gas industry activity in the Permian basin, we expect to see growth in the parts and service business.

“We will be able to have our mobile service technicians in the field and provide parts in a convenient location to our customers operating in the area.”

Covington said the dealership will likely continue to add jobs to Carlsbad’s local market, and the company intends to be a “partner” with local organizations.

“With the ongoing expected growth of the business, we will likely grow the headcount over time, especially with our mobile technicians and parts employees,” she said.

“Our company has a rich history of enriching the communities where we do business with volunteer and donation efforts.”

Plans to expand in the El Paso area were intended to match similar growth at Doggett’s freightliner dealership in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was nominated by Successful Deal Magazine, read the release, as one of five finalists for the single “best-run” heavy truck dealership in the U.S.

Doggett acquired the Arkansas facility about 14 months ago, adding to its 3,000 dealerships in the U.S. including a Ford dealership in Houston which it claimed was the “fastest growing dealership” in the city.

Western Star, a division of Freightliner, is the North American brand for the world’s largest truck maker, Daimler Benz.

Freightliner is North America’s largest 18-wheeler highway and vocations truck manufacturer.

Doggett also owns 17 John Deere construction and forestry equipment dealerships, and seven Toyota industry equipment dealerships — including forklifts and material handing equipment.

It also owns nine Freightliner and Western Star on-highway vocational truck dealerships, along with three Link Belt crane dealerships along with the lone Ford auto and truck dealership.

The company is Houston’s 12th largest private company with annual sales of more than $1 billion and 1,400 full-time employees, including 500 factory-trained and certified technicians.

“Doggett is a family-owned heavy equipment, highway truck and automotive dealership group without outside investment,” the release read.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


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The 21st Century Trucker is as Much a Digital Jockey as a Road One

Trucking Technology

Citizens’ band radios (CBs) were once all the rage in the 1970s. The handy communications device truckers once used to stay in touch with each other on long cross-country trips became a sudden fad. This was thanks to a popular culture that romanticized the stoic trucker and the freedom of the road. Hit songs such as “Convoy,” blockbuster movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” and TV shows such as “Movin’ On” fueled the hype. Regular folks began buying the sets and installing them in their cars and pickups. They dreamed of being Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed trying to evade Sheriff Buford Justice and make the big delivery on time.

What many a daydreamer didn’t realize is that being a trucker is more than “Eastbound and Down.” It’s a hard life spent on lonely highways and in greasy diners, far from family and friends. Being a trucker takes a special breed, which adds to truckers’ near-mythical standard in modern American culture and leads to instant understanding and camaraderie amongst their select group.

Today, the CB radio fad has long since faded. Few of the would-be Bandits of the ‘70s remember their long ago “handles” or what “10-100” even meant. But truckers still go on riding the highways, just not quite as they did in 1976 at the height of the CB craze. Lots of new rules and regulations govern the amount of time they can be behind the wheel. A driver shortage has helped lift their pay as demand for truckers exceeds supply. That’s not the only thing that’s made a trucker’s life easier today than when “Breaker, Breaker” was showing in theaters. Digital technology has turned a generation of highway jockeys into Web surfers and app junkies, and that’s been a big boon for everyone.

A trucker spends a lot of time in the cab. Connected technology and applications can now turn that cab from a place to not only control the vehicle but to also run an office. Things that once had to be done by hand or manually back at headquarters – such as logs, trip sheets, delivery reports, etc. – can now be more effectively handled directly from the truck itself by the driver. Many of these devices operate via voice command, ensuring the driver can keep his or her eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

Apps boost driver safety in other ways. Phone and Web apps enable drivers to quickly alert the main office of truck problems, show where to get help when needed, and provide diagnostic information to speed any repairs. Other truck-mounted electronic devices relay vital safety information to the driver, such as cameras, sensors, blind-spot warning and collision avoidance systems.

Data drives the trucking business today as much as Peterbilt or Mack. Thanks to digital technology, artificial intelligence and specialized programs, truckers can quickly determine how to make each delivery more efficient and productive. GPS trackers monitor rig locations, making dispatching easier and timelier than before. Such technology especially aids the small, independent trucker, making them more competitive with the big carriers in a way never possible before. The more efficient their operations, the better they can cut down on waste and boost their bottom line.

Finally, digital technology has aided truckers and trucking companies in recruitment and retention of drivers. In an era of driver shortages, the last thing a carrier big or small needs is to not have personnel available to make deliveries. This costs the company money and potential future business. Apps have been developed that function like job boards once did at interstate truck jobs. This gives drivers instant information on what loads are out there and who is hiring. Cledus Snow depended on Bandit and his Trans Am driving far in front as blocker, and CB radio for key information on his run from Texarkana to Georgia. Today’s trucker, meanwhile, has an array of electronic and digital tools at his or her fingertips that can indicate where the next truck stop is located, the truck’s fuel efficiency, tire pressure and how many hours have been logged. Whether eastbound and down, westbound or any direction in between, it’s a new, better road from the 21st century trucker.

Report: Pennsylvania had record year for natural gas production [The Tribune-Review, Greensburg]

Jul. 10Pennsylvania had a record year for natural gas production in 2018, the state Department of Environmental Protection said on Wednesday.

Unconventional well operators produced 6.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2018 — an increase of .8 trillion cubic feet over 2017 and the largest volume of natural gas produced in Pennsylvania in a single year, according to DEP’s 2018 Oil & Gas Annual Report.

Pennsylvania is the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States, after Texas.

Unconventional wells are those that access large reservoirs of underground natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The first unconventional natural gas well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 2004, according to DEP.

Since then, production levels have steadily risen, requiring more permitting and inspection activities from DEP.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said Wednesday that the agency’s internal restructuring and continued expansion of electronic tools has increased permitting and inspection efficiency, shortened waiting periods and improved oversight of natural gas producers.

“Gov. (Tom) Wolf and DEP have made permitting and inspection efficiency a priority — reducing overall permit backlog by more than 90% since 2016 and improving inspection efficiency while ensuring compliance with our environmental regulations,” McDonnell said.

According to the 2018 report, DEP:

— Issued 1,868 unconventional well permits — 160 fewer than in 2017.

— Conducted 36,873 compliance inspections at conventional and unconventional well sites — 585 more than in 2017.

— Found 1,043 unconventional well violations — a 27% increase from 2017. (Conventional well violations declined.)

— Collected $4.1 million in fines and penalties for noncompliance at oil and gas sites.

The report also noted that:

— 917 oil and gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania in 2018.

— DEP has documented 12,164 orphan and abandoned wells in Pennsylvania.

— About 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells remain unaccounted for.

The interactive, multimedia annual report offers several levels of data: the year in review; deeper detail and historical data; and educational overviews of drilling and the regulatory process statewide.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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Philly area’s biggest bank writes down millions in bad loans to refinery, nursing home [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

Jul. 10–Shares of WSFS Financial Corp. dropped more than 4 percent in morning trading, slipping below $40 for the first time in a month, after the bank, the biggest based in the Philadelphia area, said it faced millions in losses from bad loans to an oil refinery and a nursing home operator.

WSFS, which next month plans to finish combining Beneficial Bank of Philadelphia into WSFS Bank of Wilmington to create a 90-branch network across the city, its suburbs and Delaware, says it has had to write down a total of $11.6 million in bad loans due to events “occurring within the last 30 days.”

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, WSFS did not name the borrowers. The bad loans included:

— a $5.7 million loan “related to a refinery that experienced an isolated event which impacted the facility’s operations”

— a $5.9 million loan “to a managed health care facility that was recently placed into receivership by state authorities.”

The total is slightly less than the $13 million in net income WSFS reported for the first three months of 2019. WSFS acquired Beneficial in March.

WSFS had identified both credits as “nonperforming loans for an extended period,” and said the company had been “actively working toward resolution” to get some of its money back, before the borrowers’ recent crises.

Which refinery, and which managed-care facility?

The Philadelphia economy suffered a major blow last month when Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), the oil refinery complex in Southwest Philadelphia, suffered an explosion and fire. The creditors who own the complex are closing the refinery and putting it up for sale while labor leaders and public officials are scrambling to find a savior. If no buyer is found, PES has told employees that their jobs will be terminated on Aug. 25 (60 days after the closure announcement).

Bankruptcy filings list both WSFS and Beneficial as PES creditors. It is “reasonable to assume” WSFS’ refinery losses are due to the PES fire, wrote analyst Frank Schiraldi in a report to clients at New York investment bank Sandler O’Neill + Partners.

There is no shortage of financially troubled healthcare facilities in the region. For example, last year, the state of Pennsylvania took over nine nursing homes operated by Skyline Healthcare LLC and owned by Joseph Schwartz of Brooklyn, among other facilities, and began seeking new operators; Massachusetts put the company’s nursing homes there in receivership in April.

Last week, Hahnemann University Hospital and its affiliates declared bankruptcy; its creditors have moved to close the hospital and sell its assets, for what people involved in the sale expect may be steep discounts.

Schiraldi says he expects other banks will be reporting similar credit problems. He cut his earnings estimates for WSFS but said he expects the company will remain profitable and growing.


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