Why does green California pump the dirtiest oil in the U.S.?


“So far, California’s oil producers have done little to change the way they operate. That’s partly because of scant pressure from state regulators, but also because California’s steam-injected oil has not drawn the kind of attention, from either environmentalists or legislators, that hydraulic fracturing has, even though fracking is used in fewer than one-fifth of the state’s wells. But many climate and energy experts say reforming California’s dirty system of oil extraction is long overdue.

One way to be environmentally conscious would be to start producing steam using the San Joaquin Valley’s plentiful and consistent supply of solar radiation. Concentrating solar thermal technology uses the sun’s energy to flash water to steam. In an electricity plant, that steam spins a turbine. At a steam-injected oil well, that steam could go straight into the ground. “If just 20 percent of the steam used in California fields was produced with solar,” says David Clegern, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, “greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by more than 3 million metric tons annually.” That’s equivalent to taking 643,000 cars off the road for a year.”

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