The Oxnard-based oil exploration firm Peak Operator is now targeting crude oil in California’s Vaca Tar Sands, despite another company’s failed attempt to extract Vaca Tar Sands oil a few years back. Drilling and refining this heavy crude oil, known as bitumen, is inherently risky to human health, the environment and the climate. California regulators must stop Peak Operator from expanding its tar sands operations.
What is the plan?
Peak Operator (Peak) plans to use risky techniques that combine cyclic steam injection (steam fracking) and steam assisted gravity drainage. This involves injecting highly pressurized, super-heated steam into tar sands wells to liquefy and separate the thick oil, then pump the resulting mixture to the surface. Toxic solvents or acids such as toluene and hydrochloric acid can be added to loosen the oil from the sand.
Peak is planning to drill up to 200 new wells. State regulations on gas fracking to not apply to steam injection techniques.
What are the risks?
- In 2008, Tri-Valley Corp began drilling in the Vaca Tar Sands. Over four years, Tri-Valley failed to repair faulty wells, spilled chemicals on farmland and ultimately went bankrupt.
- The risk of groundwater contamination is greater than with other drilling techniques because of steam injection’s propensity of breaking well casings. Potential contaminants from bitumen include carcinogenic chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
- Steam injection would further strain already stressed regional water resources because it wastes about half a barrel of water for every barrel of oil, about two to five times more than conventional oil drilling.
- During 2016, California’s steam fracking industry used 17.8 billion gallons of water--as much as 572,127 Californians use in a year.
- California’s Tar Sands crude is among the most climate-polluting fuel sources in the world.
- Wastewater from steam injection and oil drilling is often disposed of through underground injection, which can cause sinkholes and earthquakes.
California must block Peak’s proposed steam fracking in Ventura County to put the health of Oxnard’s land, air, water, climate and people before corporate profits.