Protecting native habitat, plants and animals is a daily mission for Aera’s environmental guardians
Aera Environmental Specialist Cari Long spends her days on something called “avoidance.”
It doesn’t mean she looks for ways to evade work. Far from it.
Long’s job is protecting habitat and wildlife at Aera’s San Ardo oilfield. In the conservation world, “avoidance” means taking steps to avoid disturbing onsite species.
It’s the driving force behind Long’s daily responsibilities and the rigorous efforts of Aera’s large team of environmental guardians.
“We go above and beyond what’s required to prevent disturbance and loss of wildlife,” Long said.
Each of Aera’s five oil-producing assets has at least one environmental specialist like Long. These trained employees work hand in hand with Aera’s Environment, Health and Safety division. State and federal regulations, of course, drive much of what they do.
But there’s something more. This is a team that’s not only driven by its passion for protecting ecosystems but by Aera’s strategic imperative to “provide exceptional care for people and the environment.”
Aera also relies on several third-party consultants who specialize in biological and environmental services to ensure that oilfield operations don’t adversely impact wildlife or habitat.
In turn, they all work with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the California Department of Conservation and other regulatory agencies.
“The last thing we want to do is the wrong thing. That’s not how Aera operates.”
That interaction is essential for making sure Aera stays current on the latest environmental regulations and compliance requirements. It’s also critical for obtaining the environmental permits that allow Aera to operate.
“We all do the best we can for the environment and for Aera,” said Aaron Aguilera, another Aera environmental specialist. “The last thing we want to do is the wrong thing. That’s not how Aera operates.”
Safeguarding dozens of species
Aera’s five locations across Central California cover several terrains, from desert valleys to hills to coastline. And that means species diversity differs by location.
“In San Ardo, we have red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, American badgers, bob cats, mountain lions and deer,” Long said.
“Our most sensitive species are our plant life, including Abbot’s bush mallow, which only occurs in the Salinas River Valley area, and oak trees, which are protected by County Ordinance,” she added. “Oak trees are a major concern in our Ventura field location as well.”
In Aera’s San Joaquin facilities – the Belridge, Midway Sunset and Coalinga fields — protected species include the giant kangaroo rat, San Joaquin antelope squirrel, blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the San Joaquin kit fox. Bobcats, Heerman’s kangaroo rats and coyotes are other common species.
“One of the broadest range of species we protect are migratory and nesting birds under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Long. “We will create a buffer zone around active bird nests and even leave production down if we aren’t able to work on a well due to a nesting bird.”
Before Aera can consider entering an area for production, biological reviews must take place. If those reviews reveal the presence of threatened or endangered species, Aera either totally avoids the area or implements plans to monitor and mitigate any impact to them. Those plans may include consulting with CDFW and USFWS.
Such mitigation measures can include setting up barriers to keep out human traffic. Sometimes Aera installs environmental fencing to prevent wildlife from entering a place that might pose a danger to them.
“Even if wildlife is not listed as threatened or endangered, it is still protected under our guidelines,” said Aguilera, who, like Long, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from California State University-Bakersfield.
Sometimes an overseeing agency will grant Aera an “incidental take” permit.
“These permits are extensive and allow us to relocate species that will be impacted,” Long said. “We did this in our Belridge field for the San Joaquin antelope squirrel. If we need to relocate species, we can purchase credits for Coles Levee for the benefit of the ecosystem.”
Coles Levee preserves an entire ecosystem
Coles Levee Ecosystem Preserve is located 20 miles southwest of Bakersfield. This 6,000-acre stretch of land represents a unique public-private partnership dedicated to conserving an entire ecosystem. It’s owned and managed by Aera under a partnership with CDFW.
While it may look like Coles Levee is home to only scrub brush and a few oil-pumping jacks, the preserve actually teems with life. Blunt-nosed lizards, kit foxes, kangaroo rats, owls and other raptors are among the threatened, endangered or otherwise protected species that live in this large ecosystem. They’re all safeguarded by state and federal laws and Aera’s watchful management.
“Coles Levee is a really great project that allows us to create a large habitat for species instead of broken, noncontiguous islands of habitat, which really aren’t conducive to successful propagation of the species,” Long said.
Coles Levee and Aera’s habitat protection efforts demonstrate Aera’s mission to serve California and its inhabitants while delivering the energy the state requires.
“Aera is trying to do what’s right,” Aguilera said. “Like improved safety measures, our environmental protection efforts stem from greater awareness and a conscious choice to do better.”