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Oil, Gas Operators’ California Dreams Turn to Nightmare in SoCal Wildfire

A number of small oilfields in Ventura County, CA, remained shut in Friday as the Thomas Fire spread into Ojai and the unincorporated areas surrounding the city of Ventura, with major producer Aera Energy LLC closing down all of its operations.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday issued yet another emergency proclamation, as the Thomas blaze in Ventura County burned through 132,000 acres, spreading westerly into neighboring Santa Barbara County. Brown also requested a presidential emergency declaration to direct the federal response.

The Thomas blaze was 10% contained on Friday afternoon, but officials said it could continue burning in remote areas for weeks to come as there is no rain in the long-range weather forecasts.

As of Friday afternoon the Creek Fire in northern Los Angeles County had burned more than 15,000 acres and was 42% contained; the adjacent Rye Canyon Fire had covered 6,000 acres and was 35% contained; and the Lilac Fire in north San Diego County had covered more than 4,000 acres with no containment.

High winds were forecast to be a sporadic factor through the weekend. Power outages were the most severe in the Thomas Fire, based on reports from Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), while Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) continued to report little impact on its pipeline and storage network that serves all four affected counties.

SCE estimated Friday that based on weather and barring any other issues, it expected to restore power to the mountain hamlet of Idyllwild in Riverside County late in the day.

The Ventura office of the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) reported that the 96,000-acre Thomas blaze on Thursday night was within 1,600 feet of the Sespe oilfield, and shut-in production included more than a half-dozen other fields -- Ventura, San Miguelito, Rincon, Ojai, Timber Canyon, Newhall-Potrero and portions of Honor Rancho and Wayside Canyon.

DOGGR Ventura officials said Newhall-Potrero was "half burned over." The state office described the situation as "lots of shut-ins." Closures of schools and other institutions were widespread throughout the Los Angeles Basin but DOGGR said there was no impact on oil and gas operations.

In Ventura, Aera shut in all of its 382 producing wells, cutting 12,000 b/d and 7 MMcf/d of production. A Bakersfield-based spokeswoman said the company was maintaining several crews in the area to assist firefighters.

"The wells will remain shut in until it is absolutely safe and electrical power is restored," she said. The company confirmed that all 83 employees were safe, although many have been forced to evacuate their homes. Aera also employs another 200 contract workers in the area.

SCE told Aera and Long Beach-based Termo Co. that it could not give an estimate on when power would be restored. A Termo official told NGI Thursday afternoon that it had nine producing wells in the Ojai Field, producing about 1 MMcf/d.

"Although none of our assets have been destroyed, we are totally shut down” in Ventura, the spokesperson said. "Power to that area is out, and we expect it to stay out; SCE won't even begin to give us an estimate for when they might have power back up."

Ventura County is the top gas-producing area for Termo, which also has oil production. "Both oil and gas wells are shut down because all of our rigs are powered with electric motors," he said.

At the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a spokesperson said on Thursday its electrical system, the largest city-run utility network in the nation, was "faring very well with only about 25 customers without power in late morning. "There are no major issues and no transmission lines impacted for us," he said.

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