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Industry leaders converge in CA’s oil country

Rep. Kevin McCarthy , Bakersfield Native, speaks to a sold-out crowd at the West Kern Petroleum Summit (Photo: Traffic411)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy , Bakersfield Native, speaks to a sold-out crowd at the West Kern Petroleum Summit (Photo: Traffic411)

What do a Texas oil tycoon, a California Congressman and a TV game show have in common? They were all in attendance at the recent West Kern Petroleum Summit (#WKPSummit2015) in Kern County.

Hometown hero and Bakersfield native, Rep. Kevin McCarthy got the day going, telling the sold-out crowd of industry professionals how important their line of work is to the nation’s economic health.

“Oil and gas employment outpaced the total of all other private sector jobs. It brought this country back.”

McCarthy went on to moderate a panel on California energy innovations. Christina Sistrunk, CEO of Aera Energy LLC (a Shell/Exxon partnership) brought up the need to conduct fracking (hydraulic fracturing) “in an environmentally responsible way.”

Rob Duchow with the Southern California Gas Company pointed out that 52% of electricity in the state is generated by natural gas, adding that the cleanest of all fossil fuel options powers a lot of wind & solar farms ‘when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.”

Famous oil entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens was the headliner, receiving multiple standing ovations, including one when he first appeared on stage.

Alex Trebek, T. Boone Pickens and Sheri Horn-Bunk of the Taft College Foundation backstage at the West Kern Petroleum Summit in Taft, CA (Photo: Alex Horvath)

Alex Trebek, T. Boone Pickens and Sheri Horn-Bunk of the Taft College Foundation backstage at the West Kern Petroleum Summit in Taft, CA (Photo: Alex Horvath)

In a sit-down conversation with Greta Lydecker, vice president of Chevron, ‘Boone’ talked oil and politics.  He reiterated a prediction that oil would rise to $70 a barrel within six months.

Pickens, who has been a Jeb Bush supporter, told the audience he likes another 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina. He said he thought she performed the best in the debate and is “Smarter than the guys (her competition) are.”

Tune-in to my chat with Boone Pickens as he makes his case for the Keystone XL Pipeline. He also explains why he’s considering a lawsuit against the government in Ontario, Canada, and reveals the Los Angeles area beach city where he’d like to live when (if ever) he retires.

The industry executives I spoke with were optimistic about the business, even though the price of crude oil is hovering at under $50 a barrel, not far from a 52 week low.

“We’re in a commodity business,” reasoned Gene Voiland, chairman of Valley Republic Bank and former (founding) CEO of Aera Energy. “The unusual price was $100 a barrel.”

Voiland told me he doesn’t agree with federal geologist estimates, dramatically lowering the amount of recoverable oil in California’s Monterey shale formation.

“The Monterey shale has an enormous amount of oil in it. The question is, what’s it going to take to unlock it?”

Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek emceed the event. In between panels Trebek kept the audience engaged by sharing behind-the-scenes trivia about the iconic TV game show.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R CA) with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek at the 2015 West Kern Petroleum Summit (Photo: Alex Horvath)

Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R CA) with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek at the 2015 West Kern Petroleum Summit (Photo: Alex Horvath)

One of the most interesting things for me was seeing how many women were in the audience and on stage. Aera Energy CEO Christina Sistrunk, said oil is a good business for women.

“It is an industry that really values talent, and so you do see women get the opportunity to contribute at the highest levels.”

Sistrunk, who met her husband while working on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, told me one thing she was exited to find after agreeing to take the job in Bakersfield.

“We seem to have a more abundance of senior women here in the community. And, it adds a different dimension to working here, which I’m really enjoying.”

Aera Energy president & CEO Christina Sistrunk talks about how she found her way into, and rose to the top ranks, of the traditionally male-dominated oil industry. (Click to listen)

The event took place underneath a giant white tent in the tiny oil town of Taft, along the western edge of Kern County.  The West Kern Oil Summit is presented by the Taft College Foundation, whose goal is to provide training by working with industries to put people to work.

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Stuck on Highway 166

A rainbow appears over the Cuyama Valley as stranded travelers sit for hours in their car waiting for Highway 166 to be cleared of debris after the roadway flooded. (Photo: Traffic411)

A rainbow appears over the Cuyama Valley as stranded travelers sit for hours in their car waiting for Highway 166 to be cleared of debris after the roadway flooded. (Photo: Traffic411)

When I set out for Kern County on Friday morning I was looking forward to taking the 166 from Santa Maria to Taft. My original plan to take the 33 up and over Ojai and into Maricopa was scratched due to the mudslides caused by flash flooding a day earlier. The downpour also triggered mudslides that closed Interstate 5 overnight, the main artery linking Los Angeles to the Central Valley.

From Santa Barbara, taking the 166 instead of the 33 added an hour to the drive, but I headed out before sunrise and made it to Taft in three hours. Coming home was a different story. A flash flood warning was issued for the 166 due to thunderstorms. But, since I5 was just reopening with escorts, I took my chances on the 166.

I didn’t get very far before receiving a text alert from KEYT News saying that a ‘flash flood was reported in Cuyama Valley… with many cars stuck in the mud.” I had planned to stop for dinner at the Cuyama Buckhorn, a newly-reopened vintage roadside saloon/restaurant/motel. So, I pulled in to the restaurant and asked if anyone knew the location of the mudslides.  The bartender said he didn’t but, that firetrucks with sirens blaring had zoomed by about five minutes ago. He said that meant that the emergency workers may soon be shutting down the road.

Also Read: Taft’s Oildorado Days

I skipped my plans for dinner & a beer and hopped back in my car to try to get through on the single lane road before it became impassable. But, I was too late – ten minutes up the road I hit stopped traffic. And, the line of cars and drivers were stranded there for two hours. CHP SUVs and an ambulance or two roared by, what looked like a Sheriff’s helicopter and an airplane (possibly KEYT News getting aerial footage?) but drivers down below were stuck not knowing what was happening.

KNX NewsRadio out of Los Angeles came in sketchy on my radio and I could hear traffic reporter (and my friend) Denise Fondo mentioning the trouble on the 166, but she had the location wrong (the CHP must have shut down the 166 back at the 33 because the road was impassable). I tried for an hour to call the KNX Traffic Line with no luck since my phone had no signal. Then I noticed in my rear view mirror that the driver behind me was talking on his phone. He loaned it to me to call the radio station to report our traffic tie up.

Big kudos to Fondo for taking the time to look into the reason for our standstill – even though the 166 is way outside of the Los Angeles metro area (still, you have lots of KNX listeners in Santa Barbara County, KNX!). Fondo was busy enough reporting on an extra busy Friday afternoon commute – with the newly-opened I5, and an hours-long closure of the 101 in both directions through Studio City because of a suicidal man threatening to jump. So, thank you Denise!

As it turned out, Thankfully, it turned out, no cars were stuck in the mud, which covered the roadway and what appeared to be a bridge near Spanish Ranch. After sitting still for two hours, cars started moving through the muddy area. By this time it was dark, and what a beautiful night in Cuyama. Clear skies, a bright crescent shaped moon and stars.

Highway 101 was jammed with big rigs at 10PM on Friday night, as truckers found an alternate route to the I5 closure. (Photo: Traffic411)

Highway 101 was jammed with big rigs at 10PM on Friday night, as truckers found an alternate route to the I5 closure. (Photo: Traffic411)

An hour later, there was another slowdown merging onto Hwy 101 in Santa Maria. But the real gridlock came getting into the city of Santa Barbara.  The 101 was wall to wall big rigs. It’s amazing what the closure of one major freeway (Interstate 5) can do.  My expected three hour drive home from Kern County turned into a six hour ordeal! Boy, was I happy to (finally) get home to Santa Barbara.

Let’s hope that with the I5 reopened, the truckers will be heading for the Grapevine and leaving the 101 to the cars.

Keep in mind, the CHP & Caltrans says it could be days before the 58 (another popular route for truckers) is cleared of debris and reopens. According to Caltrans QuickMap, Hwy 33 is open at the Wheeler Gorge Campground (as of Saturday morning).

This ordeal has me making sure I have some warm clothes, sturdy shoes, extra water and some kind fo food (nuts, power bars) in the trunk, to be prepared for an emergency.

 

NOTE: There could be more flooding on Hwy 166 Saturday – A flash flood watch is in effect through tonight for  the Cuyama Valley as well as the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo & Ventura County mountain areas.

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Sound like a Santa Barbara Local

Just about any newcomer to California will tell you that it’s not always easy pronouncing the names of some of our streets and cities. Many of the names are inspired by early Spanish or Mexican settlers, which probably sound quite foreign to out of state visitors and newly-relocated transplants.

I’ve lived in the Golden State all of my life and, as a former traffic reporter, it was my job to know how to pronounce the names of every freeway ramp in Southern California. But, when I first arrived in Santa Barbara there were streets I wasn’t sure about.

Santa Barbara historian Neal Graffy, author of “Street Names of Santa Barbara,” says the town council wanted to honor Santa Barbara’s earliest settlers and founding families by naming city streets after them. From Anapamu to Quinientos – Graffy offers this brief audio primer on how to sound like a local.

Graffy told me the hardest names in downtown Santa Barbara to pronounce are Micheltorena and Quinientos. For me, Anapamu and Arrellaga looked just as tricky. Have you come across any streets that left you scratching your head?

When 100,000+ gallons of crude oil spilled off the Gaviota coast in May of 2015, one of my Los Angeles traffic reporter friends asked me how to say “Refugio” like a local. I told her it was pronounced “Ruh-foo-GEE-oh” (with a hard G, like ‘get’). Later,  I learned the “G” was spoken as an ‘F’ in the original Spanish pronunciation, making it “Ruh-foo-FEE-oh.”  For details on the proper Refugio pronunciation, check out this EdHat discussion.

While you’re figuring out the street names – you’ll want to become acquainted with three street names that sound similar – but lead to different places: Cabrillo, Carrillo and Castillo! 🙂 Happy Pronouncing!

streetnamesofsb_cropYou can read about the stories behind the street names of Santa Barbara in Graffy’s book “Street Names of Santa Barbara.” 

 

 

 

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Do You Waze?

The Waze real time traffic navigation app has almost made driving fun! I’ve been commuting at rush hour recently (I don’t know how anyone does this everyday!) and, when I log on each morning, Waze offers up the most congestion route and provides the estimated arrival time.

When you Waze, your smartphone detects traffic conditions around you and shares it with other users.  Active Wazers can alert others to road hazards such as construction and accidents, red light cameras and even when a police officer is in the area.

Once you sign up, you have the option to go ‘invisible’ so others can’t see you but, since Waze is owned by Google, you can be sure your data is being collected for something.

Waze won’t replace radio traffic reports for me, but can eliminate the need for an in-vehicle navigation system. And,  it’s a fun way to learn new routes while helping you get to where you’re going in a shorter amount of time.

Waze is a free app that uses mobile crowdsourcing to provide driving directions and route users around traffic jams (Photo credit: Waze)

Waze is a free app that uses mobile crowdsourcing to provide driving directions and route users around traffic jams (Photo credit: Waze)

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Hollywood Jam

Getting around Hollywood  this weekend will be a challenge with preparations underway for the 86th Academy Awards (Photo: Funk Brothers Hollywood Star Ceremony Lisa Osborne/Traffic411)

Getting around Hollywood this weekend will be a challenge with preparations underway for the 86th Academy Awards (Photo: Funk Brothers Hollywood Star Ceremony Lisa Osborne/Traffic411)

With preparations underway for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, getting around Hollywood is going to be a pain. Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Orange has been closed all week, as the Dolby Theater (former Kodak Theater) gets ready for Oscar.

If you’re heading into Hollywood from the 101 Freeway, avoid the Highland Ave exit. Use Cahuenga, Vine or Gower instead.  If you are taking the canyon roads to travel between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, Coldwater Canyon or (to the west), Benedict Canyon or Beverly Glen will be a better bet than Laurel Canyon.  Clean up following the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, will last another day or so. By Wednesday March 5, traffic in Hollywood should be back to normal.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the Red Carpet at a Hollywood Awards Show?  Click here to listen to my podcast with celebrity photographer Lee Roth!

(Photo: RothStock Media/HollyNet.com)

(Photo: RothStock Media/HollyNet.com)

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Farewell Firestone: Rare freeway off ramp closes

The now-closed Firestone Boulevard off ramp was one of only a few 'left side' freeway off ramps in California.

If  you drive on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway between Orange C0unty and Los Angeles, you’ve probably noticed the Firestone Exit – it’s one of the few left exit ramps in California. Drivers exit on the left side of the freeway instead of the usual right side of the freeway.

The Firestone Boulevard exit shut down forever in March, as part of a freeway rennovation project. So, here’s to the memories – a few pics of the Firestone Boulevard off ramp from the 5 (Santa Ana freeway) in Norwalk.

A now-extinct relic off LA's Santa Ana (5) Freeway, the left-exiting Firestone Boulevard off ramp.

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Calif. dreaming at the L.A. Auto Show

From exotic to fuel-efficient, a variety of  vehicles of today and tomorrow are on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens today and runs through December 9th at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Some vehicles are making their world debut at the show, which is the first big show of the season in North America.

Auto enthusiasts can “ooh” and “ah” over more than 1,000 cars, trucks and more, including the much talked about Porsche Cayman sports coupe, and the hard-to-get Jaguar XFR-S. Only a few dozen of this much anticipated ultra-high performance Jaguar will be available for sale in the U.S.

The show will also feature a lot of fuel-efficient vehicles. If you’re considering buying a hybrid, electric or alternative fuel vehicle, it’s a great chance to see the latest models up close. The show runs until December 9, 2012. You can purchase discounted tickets to the show on the L.A. Auto Show’s website.

Technology will also be featured at the auto show, as more and more drivers are interested in connecting their iPad, iPhone and smartphones into their vehicle.

Read more about the L.A. Auto Show at KFWB.com

L.A. Auto Show runs through December 9th at the Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA


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Carmageddon 2: Race to the Finish Line

Crews are demolishing the Mulholland Bridge over the 405 freeway. Work stopped briefly on Saturday when the east end of the bridge broke off in one piece (see red circle on left). (Source: CBSLA.com)

It’s day two of Carmageddon II, the the weekend closure of the major artery that links West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. Construction crews say demolition of the Mulholland Bridge over the 405 freeway is running  on schedule, and they promise, ‘no matter what,’ that the freeway WILL open on time, by 5 AM Monday, just in time for the morning rush hour. Kiewit Construction has a strong incentive to make that deadline. They will be fined $6,000 per lane – per every ten minutes that the freeway remains closed past 5 AM.

The sound of heavy jack hammering could be heard from miles away on Sunday morning, as heavy equipment chunked away at the bridge.  There was a minor glitch at around 4PM Saturday, when a giant piece of the east end of the bridge came down in one huge chunk.  John Baird of KNX Radio was on the scene, he said the piece of concrete “was the size of three or four railroad cars”  (see red circled area in photo). No one was hurt, but work was stopped for over an hour so structural engineers could assess the situation. Now, they say, that portion of the old bridge will be broken up from the ground rather than above.

A tricky part of the demolition will come on Sunday when crews knock down the tall, think pillars holding up the bridge. They weigh about a ton each, so it’s critical that they fall away from freeway lanes, toward the dirt hillsides, as not to damage the roadway.

Metro officials have been urging residents to ‘play and stay near home’ during the 53 hour 405 closure and, except for some crowded roads inWest L.A. and along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu-Santa Monica, traffic has been lighter than usual for a weekend in Los Angeles.

Watch live streaming video of Carmageddon work in progress on CBSLA.com.  View real time traffic conditions with this L.A. freeway map.

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