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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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