Oil Companies Are Using the Barrel to Transport Oil Off the Coast of California

Oil giants sell thousands of California wells, raising worries about future liability for spills

In a story May 26 about new rules for Gulf of Mexico oil drilling, the Los Angeles Times reported that oil giants have drilled hundreds of thousands of offshore wells in California, but have not sold many of them. But when oil giants drill off the coast of California, a new reality is setting in for California’s coast: It may soon become a vast oil tanker route, one in which many of the rigs drilled for oil off the state’s shore are used to transport oil in what one industry executive has dubbed “the barrel.”

California is a crucial oil market and has a long coastline. In fact, the first major oilfield was located in Kern County. The largest oilfield in California is the giant Bonneville Oil Field, which is located in Monterey Bay and stretches all the way to the Mexican border. There are over 500 drilling sites in Kern County alone. By one estimate, oilfield production in California accounts for up to 3.6 percent of the state’s total oil production.

As these facts become public, environmentalists and state officials are concerned that if oil companies do not get the proper permits before drilling offshore, they could unleash a disastrous spill that would hurt California’s fragile economic recovery, destroy marine life and create toxic pollution in the surrounding water.

The oil industry has been very slow to change the way they do business. Oil companies drill many of these California wells on land but then transport the crude oil offshore to shore. The oil gets hauled in a tanker to an offshore oil terminal, and then brought back to shore.

In a letter to the California Department of Conservation, the American Petroleum Institute said that oil companies were “subject to a variety of environmental and other legal requirements before oil is shipped to shore,” and that it had been working to make all of its oil shipping and storage rules consistent with federal and state law.

A June 2015 Reuters investigation revealed that for many of the oil wells drilled in California, the only record of drilling was filled with handwritten notes that say “drill completed” or “drill not yet completed.”

Oil executives and regulators say these little-known practices allow oil companies to avoid long-term liability

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