Monterey Oilfield: Dirtiest in California

     (CN) — In scenic Monterey County, just miles off California’s famous stretch of Highway 101, sits one of the Golden State’s largest and most productive oil operations. With more than 1,000 active wells, the San Ardo oilfield produces millions of barrels of oil a year — but at a severe cost to the environment, according to a new climate study.
     The San Ardo oilfield was vilified Wednesday in a report by the Center for Biological Diversity that painted the notoriously thick and heavy Monterey crude as the most climate-damaging oil produced in California.
     Coining the San Ardo oil as California’s “dirtiest” supply, the report uses newly released state data to highlight the environmental hazards involved in extracting the thick oil and warns against regulators’ plans to expand the oilfield.
     The Monterey County oil requires more energy to extract and is more carbon-intensive than the dirty oil culled from Canada’s strip-mining operations, according to environmentalists.
     “Extracting San Ardo’s heavy crude requires an inordinate amount of energy, which greatly increases the climate pollution associated with its production,” the report states. “For that reason oil from San Ardo is more carbon-intensive, producing more climate pollution than imported crude from the Alberta tar sands.”
     The data attributes San Ardo’s massive carbon footprint to the amount of energy required to lug the heavy crude from underground pools into extraction wells.
     In Monterey County, oil operators often use “steam flooding:” Water is heated to 600 degrees and funneled through injection wells where it warms up the underground oil, decreases its viscosity and finally herds the precious fuel toward a production well.
     According to California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources data, oil companies used nearly 2 billion gallons of water at San Ardo in 2015 alone.
     State regulators determine the “carbon intensity” of each oilfield by measuring the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the entire oil process. Carbon intensity takes into account energy used by operators to explore, drill and transport the oil to refineries.
     San Ardo’s assigned carbon intensity is more than 2 1/2 times the state average, the report states. Moreover, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the Monterey County oil is equivalent to the emissions that 697,000 cars put out in a year.
     While the Central Coast region is known for the majestic Big Sur coastline, Monterey Bay and a vibrant farming region, it’s also one of California’s best oil producers. Monterey County is California’s fourth largest oil-producing county.
     Expanding San Ardo, already California’s single largest source of the dirtiest oil, would contradict the state’s efforts to wean itself of fossil fuels, according to Brian Nowicki, the center’s climate policy director.
     “As we struggle to fend off the worst effects of climate change, regulators should not worsen warming by letting oil companies produce even more high-carbon crude from this incredibly polluting field,” Nowicki said in a statement.
     In November Monterey County voters will decide whether to ban hydraulic fracking. While campaigning in the county, erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders urged voters to join several other California counties including Butte, Alameda and Santa Cruz in banning the controversial practice.

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