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County a small player in oil world
Local wells are pumping daily
Tulare County will never be mistaken for Kern County when it comes to oil production, but the six dozen or so oil wells southwest of Porterville are producing oil and contributing to the county’s general fund.
Oil wells can be spotted along both sides of Highway 65 from about Road 136 to Road 100.
Often, they sit silent, but with the price of crude paid locally running about $100 a barrel, the saw-horse looking rigs are moving up and down.
Yes, Tulare County has oil and while it is not a lot, according to Tulare County Assessor Roland Hill, nearly 10,000 barrels of crude was produced in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
“It’s not a big issue for us,” said Hill, noting the income the country derives from the oil produced is minimal at best.
There are two identified oil fields in the county — the Deer Creek Field and the Terra Bella Field. According to the California Department of Conservation, the majority of the producing wells are on both sides of Deer Creek just east of Orange Belt Drive. Hill said the county assessed 81 active wells last year.
Ernie Filippi, who owns Modus Oil Company and Campo Verde Oil Company, has 17 active wells, but don’t call Filippi an oil maganet.
“The wells here produce 90% water. You’re lucky if you get 10% oil,” he said.
Filippi got into the oil business in 1980 when his dad purchased land south of the Porterville Airport for the oil rights. They drilled their first well that year.
“We now have 17 wells on the lease and we have permits for another 20 or so,” he said.
What makes the pumping more cost effective, explained Filippi, is they use the water brought up to irrigate their farm. In the winter, when the water is not needed, it is put back into the well.
“We use both. We separate the oil from the water. Then we take the water, clean it of the oil and irrigate our farm.”
He explained the water, once the oil is removed, is perfect to use for irrigation. “It is potable” and he explained the water is monitored by the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board.
Most oil wells in this area are about 700 to 1000 feet deep. They have not always been pumping. Filippi said the price they have been paid has ranged from a low of $7.50 a barrel when they started to $140 a barrel more recently. This year, the Kern Crude price is about $99 a barrel.
He said the price is based on “gravity and the quality of oil” and Hill said the oil found here is not of high quality because it contains a lot of sulphur.
Local producers capture the oil and then ship it by truck to Kern County where it is then piped “to anywhere in the nation,” explained Filippi.
He also said the wells continue to produce, although not a lot, but have been fairly consistent. “The wells don’t seem to diminish. As long as the price stays up, it’s worth drilling,” he said.
Hill said they had 14 different assessments of well owners and for 2011-12 the assessed value of the mineral rights of the wells was $9 million. The assessor’s records showed some wells producing more than a barrel a day, others less than a barrel in a day.
Kern County is one of the major players in the nation when it comes to oil supply and production. According to the state, Kern County produces 77% of all the oil pumped in the state onshore.
“Deer Creek [Field] is not even a drop compared to Kern County,” said Filippi.
Oil was discovered in the Bakersfield area around 1911 and reportedly in the Porterville area in the 1930s.
The South Belridge Field is a southeast-plunging anticline, in which the oil has collected in pools in structural traps sealed by both above-lying impermeable units as well as tar seals. Most of the oil has pooled in the Tulare Formation, of Pleistocene age, and in the Diatomite Formation, of Plio-Miocene age. The oil itself probably originated in the underlying Monterey Formation, migrating upward to structural and stratigraphic traps over time, reported Wikipedia.
A total of six oil pools have been found in the South Belridge: the Tulare, Etchegoin, Diatomite, Antelope Shale, McDonald, and Devilwater-Gould. Both the Tulare and Diatomite were discovered in 1911, and these are both the largest and nearest the surface, with average depths of 400 and 1,000 feet respectively.
California ranks fourth in the nation in crude oil production.