Mar 20, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Chevron agrees to pay over $13M in penalties for California oil spills

From left: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Chevron's Billy Lacobie and Cameron Campbell from the state's Department of Conservation in 2019 at a Chevron oil field west of Bakersfield, where a spill of more than 900,000 gallons flowed into a dry creek bed in Kern County near McKittrick, California. Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Chevron has agreed to pay more than $13 million in penalties for past oil spills in California, two state agencies announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: One of the fines was for $5.6 million for the company's oil spills in Kern County in 2019, which the California Department of Conservation said in a statement brought "hazardous conditions for the environment and public health."

  • The penalty marks the "largest fine assessed in the Department of Conservation's history."
  • Meanwhile, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced a settlement agreement totaling $7.5 million for Chevron's spills in Kern County. "This is the largest administrative fine in department history," per a CDFW statement that noted the company had already paid for cleanup costs.

The big picture: CDFW's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) documented more than 70 oil spills from 2018 to 2023 in Kern County that it said were attributable to Chevron.

  • An OSPR investigation found that these spills accounted for over 446,600 gallons of oil spilled and some 1.48 million gallons of water.
  • "These spills killed or injured at least 63 animals and impacted at least six acres of salt brush and grassland habitat, including 22,721 linear feet of streambed," per a California Natural Resources Agency statement.

What they're saying: "This agreement is a significant demonstration of California's commitment to transition away from fossil fuels while holding oil companies accountable when they don't comply with the state's regulations and environmental protections," said Department of Conservation director David Shabazian in a statement.

The other side: "The settlements demonstrate our continuing commitment to take action to address issues and prevent similar incidents in the future," Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey said in a Wednesday night statement.

  • "Throughout our operations we work collaboratively with government agencies to protect people and the environment and maintain safe and reliable operations," Comey added.
"We always strive to meet or exceed our environmental obligations. When we do not achieve that goal, we take responsibility and appropriate action. We are pleased to put this matter behind us in a way that benefits our community so we can continue to focus on providing the affordable, reliable, and ever cleaner energy California needs."
— Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey

What's next: Money from Chevron's settlement with the Department of Conservation will go towards ongoing work to plug old, orphaned wells.

  • The CDFW will put money from its fine toward projects including habitat preservation.
  • Chevron has agreed to continue monitoring the site with Department of Conservation oversight.
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