Eruptions continue in area where Dave Taylor lost his life in June 2011
A report released Monday failed to shed any new light on a freak accident last June that killed a Taft man when he suddenly disappeared into a sinkhole filled with hot oil, water and steam.
The June 21 accident took the life of 54-year-old Chevron construction engineer David Taylor, who disappeared beneath the surface just west of Taft into what is known in industry parlance as a “surface expression.”
The report issued by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) did not fix blame for Taylor’s death but reviewed in detail what occurred at the Chevron-owned site before, during and after the incident.
In April/May, the report indicates, Chevron placed a subsurface containment structure over an abandoned well site known as Well 20 that is operated by Taft-based TRC Operating Co., Inc., which has adjacent lease operations.
The structure was designed to contain thermal activity that initially began at that site five years earlier.
Drains, terrace excavation and expression vents were installed.
Two additional re-abandonment operations took place before last June’s incident, the DOGGR report said. “Other wells may be abandoned near the Well 20 surface expression in the future.”
Taylor, who was a member of the engineering team involved in building the containment structure, and two colleagues cautiously approached an area where a plume of steam was visible, the report noted, avoiding any ground that appeared wet on the surface.
Taylor suddenly slipped into a sinkhole. The other men tried to save him, but he slipped out of their grasp.
According to a report filed by Darren Walrath of Chevron, “ground gave way, one worker slipped feet-first into a hole. Other workers could not react in time to save him from falling.”
CalOSHA and DOGGR launched investigations. Chevron and TRC likewise have been probing conditions that led to the accident.
Surface activity at the site has increased.
“Thermal activity at the accident site increased significantly as steam, water and oil began to be expelled from an emerging and enlarging crater. Two large eruptions of steam, water, oil and rocks occurred on Aug. 15 and 17.”
That prompted DOGGR to restrict steaming operations in the immediate vicinity of the troubled well.
Steam injection began in the late 1990s in an effort to extract more heavy oil from the diatomite reservoir in the area. Surface expression activity began at the Well 20 site in 2006.