A closer look at how we produce an essential component of everyday life under some of the world’s strictest regulations
By Peter Ashton, Interim Vice President – Environment, Health and Safety and Regulatory Affairs
Earlier this year, Ashton was named to a vice president’s role to lead Aera’s strategic imperative to provide exceptional care for people and the environment. A petroleum engineer by education and experience, he has held numerous positions since joining Aera in 1997.
As the producer of 25% of California’s oil and gas, Aera sometimes finds itself in a difficult position.
Dozens of new laws and regulatory rulemakings have affected almost every facet of our industry. This complex regulatory system ensures environmental protection. But it also presents special challenges to fulfilling the energy needs of California consumers and businesses.
Even as we operate under some of the world’s most stringent regulations, even as California’s demand for energy grows, our industry faces recurring opposition. Because I know how diligently Aera works to meet or exceed state environmental regulations, it’s not easy for me to read or hear the erroneous statements and misperceptions about California’s oil and gas production.
Yet Aera has chosen to see these challenges as opportunity. We have made it our mission to be the premier oil and gas producer in the Golden State. We want regulators to say, “Aera is the way business should be done in California’s oil and gas industry.”
Our essential role
Aera produces an essential component of everyday life. Even so, California must still import a whopping 70% of the crude oil it uses. If the state were to shut down its oil production, it would have to import 100% of its oil from places with far weaker production and environmental oversight. Among the foreign sources of California’s crude-oil imports are Saudi Arabia (37%), Ecuador (14.22%), Colombia (12.25%) and Iraq (8.19%). Also on that list: Kuwait, Brazil, Mexico and Angola. Not one of these countries operates at the high level of California’s environmentally driven requirements.
If you’re not directly involved in California’s oil and gas industry, it’s easy to be unaware of the many regulations we operate under. Here are a few:
- Air emissions – Key among the air emission regulations we follow every day is Title V. Part of the Clean Air Act, Title V requires us to obtain an operating permit, operate in compliance with that permit, and certify at least annually our compliance with permit requirements. We also comply with AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This law mandates the state to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
In 2018 alone, Aera had nearly 3 million required component inspections for air-emission compliance among our five operating fields. That averaged more than 56,000 components inspected every week. If any of these components are out of compliance, we face Notices of Violation and fines.
I am proud to say Aera’s air emissions have dropped by more than half since 2000. Moreover, one of the most important elements of our planned Belridge Solar Project will involve reducing air emissions. The project is expected to eliminate the equivalent emissions of 80,000 cars per year in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
- Water – Much of the conventional oil production in California uses enhanced oil recovery technologies like steam injection and water flooding. For decades, these technologies have been used to dramatically extend the productive life of the state’s oil fields. Like the rest of our industry, Aera conforms to comprehensive regulatory oversight and coordination over water use and disposal in the operation of injection wells by both federal and state agencies. These include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California’s DOGGR Underground Injection Control program and the State Water Resources Control Board.
- Hydraulic fracturing – California oil producers also face a variety of regulations related to hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluid under pressure into underground rock formations to free trapped oil and gas. It’s been safely used for more than 60 years throughout the state’s oil and gas industry. California’s hydraulic fracturing differs dramatically from that used in North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and other areas of the nation’s mid-section. Here, the process typically produces liquid oil rather than natural gas. We also use much less water and sand volume to create the hairline “fractures.” Hydraulic fracturing in California has never been shown to adversely affect the state’s environment or drinking water supply or pose any risk to nearby residents. To perform any hydraulic fracturing, Aera must provide a 41-page application to California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and the state water board to gain approval.
- Threatened and endangered species – California has 14 different listed species that dictate how state oil producers like Aera assess and plan our projects. Among these are the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, San Joaquin kit fox, San Joaquin antelope squirrel, Kern mallow and burrowing owl. Aera has a very rigorous program that starts with biological reviews before we consider entering an area for production. If those reviews reveal the presence of threatened or endangered species, we either totally avoid the area or implement plans to monitor and mitigate any impact to them.
Through Aera’s excellent commitment to exceptional care for people and the environment, we help protect the air, water, land and wildlife of California. That allows us to continue producing the oil and gas Californians depend on while providing jobs, tax revenues, economic benefits and community involvement.
I hope that, when you hear or read negative opinions about California’s oil and gas industry, you will remember Aera’s commitment to protecting public health and safety as well as our environmental leadership. I hope you will challenge what you hear by checking it out for yourself. We are taking extraordinary measures to do right by the Californians who depend on us.