Photos Show Destructive Impacts Of Steam Injection At Chevron Oil Well, California Officials Forced To Intervene

Written by Mike G

Topics: Oil

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Even after a sinkhole filled with poisonous gas, super-heated steam and hot water opened up beneath 54-year-old Robert David Taylor, killing the veteran oilfield worker, Chevron continued its use of steam injection at Well 20 near Taft, CA. Then a major eruption occurred just a few weeks later at the same well, finally prompting California officials to step in and order a stop to Chevron’s use of the dangerous technology.

According to, there was a “violent eruption” near Well 20 on August 5th. A report by the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) says that softball-sized rocks, fluid, steam and other materials shot out of the ground with such force that some rocks flew as far as 50-60 feet through the air. No one was hurt in this particular incident, but DOGGR officials ordered Chevron to stop using steam injection at Well 20 pending an investigation.

BakersfieldNow also got a look at photos of these “surface expressions,” an industry euphemism for when super-heated steam injected deep underground to loosen up oil finds its way to the surface. The August 5th eruption was not the only surface expression to have occurred since Taylor’s death on June 21st — there were two others on August 3rd. This is what has DOGGR officials so concerned:

“The only things of which we are certain are that this is a hazardous situation and that there is a correlation between [steam] injection, fracturing, and the surface expressions we’re seeing,” reads a statement issued August 12 from DOGGR supervisor Elena Miller.

In the photos, steam can be seen coming out of a hillside, and a large dark spot indicates where one of the eruptions occurred:


Steam pours out of a hillside near Chevron's Well 20. This is what the industry euphemistically calls a "surface expression."


The blackened area indicates where steam, water, rocks, and other materials violently erupted from the ground.


Debris, including softball-sized rocks, flew as much as 50-60 feet through the air as a result of the eruption.

Robert David Taylor was checking on yet another surface expression when the ground opened up and swallowed him in June (Cal-OSHA is investigating Taylor’s death). There seems to be a pattern here, one that Chevron was all too content to ignore until DOGGR officials forced the company to pay attention. Which begs the question: How many other “surface expressions” have occurred at Well 20 that Chevron hasn’t told us about? And what was the toll on local wildlife and plant life of those incidents?

Whatever is going on here, it certainly provides more evidence that Chevron puts production and profits ahead of the wellbeing of its own workers and the environment.

4 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Eric says:

    Great read. Please see my website: I have thermographed these sinkholes from the air. I can help avoid this unnecessary hazard.

  2. Dynoman says:

    good article except the part where you state that chevron puts production before its workers is so far off. I have been a contractor for chevron for over 12 years,and have worked on the well mentioned. If you had any idea the amount of safety precautions we take everyday for every task you would not feel this way. this is the “Oil Fields” its a dangerous place to work,things happen. I also knew Dave personally he was a good man that did not take short cuts. this was a isolated unfortunate event. next time do more homework before you slam one of the few companies left in this state that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and not to mention 1 in 10 people in this state work for chevron in some fashion.

  3. Brian says:

    Well said Dynoman. Mike G. is an activist, writer, and musician who lives in San Francisco, need I say more. He is baised and knows nothing about geology or stem injection.

  4. Mike G says:

    @Dynoman: Perhaps Chevron does take safety seriously where you work. But that certainly does not seem to be the overriding corporate culture. Chevron has a very sketchy history and is obviously cutting corners in the name of profits. Brazil, Nigeria, Salt Lake City, UT, now Richmond, CA–all have had oil spills, explosions, and/or fires within the past year. And you only have to look at the ongoing health crisis in Ecuador resulting from Chevron’s oil pollution to see how the company refuses to take responsibility for the messes it makes. Is that a track record you really find defensible? Accidents happen, sure, but Chevron in no way can use that excuse, not with its history. These are no longer accidents but the inevitable disasters resulting from a company that above all wants to make money, people and the planet be damned.

    Would you really argue that Chevron decided not to replace a corroded pipe in its Richmond refinery last year in an excess of caution? You’d really contend that that decision had nothing to do with cutting corners and saving money even at the expense of safety for its workers and the community in which it operates? In that instance Chevron got lucky and no workers were hurt (though the media is reporting it was a “close call”, as in, it could easily have been much worse: Unfortunately for the community of Richmond and much of the Bay Area, the fallout is only beginning–and of course, the community of Richmond has been suffering as a result of Chevron’s “safe” operations for decades.

    @Brian: Let me guess what industry you work in… oh wait, no, I don’t have to guess. What was that you were saying about bias?

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