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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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Taft’s Oildorado Days

The Oildorado Days 'sheriff' and his posse rounded me up, fortunately I was able to talk my way out of going to jail! (Photo Traffic411)

The Oildorado Days ‘sheriff’ and his posse rounded me up, fortunately I was able to talk my way out of landing in the pokey! (Photo Traffic411)

I probably have my father to thank for my love of driving and the open road. As a child, my family was heading off on a road trip nearly every weekend in the summer, often to waterski at Lakes Naciemento or Mead.

So, when I had a chance to attend an Oil Summit in Kern County this week I went for it, even though it was a long day trip from Santa Barbara (note: watch for my upcoming post on the Summit, including my chat with iconic oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens). I’m so happy I did, in part because I got to experience the small town of Taft during it’s big city pride celebration.

Oildorado Days (which takes place every five years) is Taft’s way of paying homage to its earliest citizens. At one time the headquarters for Standard Oil (now Chevron), this town was built around oil. Today, a good portion of its 7,000 residents work in the oil business. There’s even a life size Oilworkers Monument.

Also Read: Stuck on Highway 166

Here’s my podcast with Taft city council member Josh Bryant. Josh tells me about some Oildorado Days activities including western traditions (the beard and bun contests), parades and even a three day music festival. This year’s Oildorado Days bash wraps up this weekend, but I still want to share this podcast with you, just in case it perks your interest enough to want to mark your calendar for the next Oildorado Days in 2020.

Josh Bryant explains what’s cool about Oildorado Days, along what’s so wonderful about visiting or living in Taft.

Taft's Oilworker Monument pays tribute to the city's earliest residents, and current citizens. (Photo Traffic411).

Taft’s Oilworker Monument pays tribute to the city’s earliest residents, and current citizens. (Photo Traffic411).

The Taft Monument to Oilworkers is the largest bronze sculpture in California (according to photographer Ben Victor, click to see his beautiful images), and worth seeing when you visit downtown Taft.

 

 

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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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