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One Of The Country's Biggest Oil Fields Just Turned To An Unexpected Power Source: Solar


The oil field is about to become even more remarkable. Its future production operations will be partly powered by a massive solar energy project that will make the oil extraction process more environmentally friendly, according to Aera and GlassPoint Solar, the firm that will create the solar project.

The Belridge field was discovered in 1911. Oil from the field flowed out of the ground because of natural pressure in the geologic reservoirs. Later, as the pressure declined, many companies said the field was exhausted. But in the 1960s, a process known as enhanced oil recovery gave the field new life. But squeezing more crude oil from the Belridge requires large amounts of steam to help loosen up the heavy crude, which in turn requires energy.

Aera has traditionally used natural gas to heat up water to create steam. But Aera and GlassPoint will now use a large, 850-megawatt solar thermal array to evaporate the water that’s pumped into the ground to liberate more oil. The companies say this will offset 4.87 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year and avoid the emission of 376,000 tons of carbon. The water used emerges from the process of oil extraction itself and will be recycled and pumped back into the ground.

The project was made possible by the recent extension of California’s cap-and-trade system for carbon-dioxide emissions until 2030, said Christina Sistrunk, chief executive of Aera Energy, a company jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil. “We need some level of what I would call regulatory and legislative stability to be able to fund projects that really need a couple of decades worth of