California Approves Plan Allowing Oil Companies to Continue Contaminating Underground Water

Posted in: Fracking, Ground Water News, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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Article courtesy of Patrick Sullivan | April 20, 2015 | Center of Biological Diversity | Shared as educational material

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Oil companies can continue dumping millions of gallons of waste fluid a day into scores of protected California underground water under a plan approved today by the state’s Office of Administrative Law.

The Brown administration’s emergency “underground injection control” regulations, which take effect immediately, allow hundreds of illegal oil industry disposal wells to continue polluting underground water that is clean enough to be protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

These illegal disposal wells dump an average total of 27 million gallons of oil waste a day into protected aquifers, according to calculations by the Center for Biological Diversity.

“These regulations are a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for oil companies dumping waste into California’s underground water supplies,” said Clare Lakewood, a Center attorney. “The Office of Administrative Law should have rejected this illegal effort to turn our aquifers over to the oil industry to use as garbage dumps. During this devastating drought, Gov. Brown’s oil officials must shut down every single illegal disposal well immediately.”

Oil regulators recently admitted to wrongly issuing nearly 500 permits for oil industry waste-disposal wells that violate federal and state law. More than 2,000 enhanced oil recovery wells are also operating illegally in protected aquifers.

Under California law, oil company officials who fail to follow statutes and regulations protecting underground water can be fined or imprisoned for as long as six months. But instead of levying penalties, the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has shut down just 23 of the hundreds of illegal wells that have dumped billions of gallons of hazardous oil waste into protected aquifers from Monterey to Kern and Los Angeles counties (see the Center’s interactive map).

These illegal disposal wells are contaminating underground water, according to recent testimony by state water official Jonathan Bishop. “Any injection into the aquifers that are not exempt has contaminated those aquifers,” Bishop told senators at the March hearing. “What we found is that the aquifer, no surprise, has the material that was injected into it.”

Cancer-causing chemicals like benzene can occur in high concentrations in both produced water that surfaces during oil production and flowback fluid from fracking — and both are typically pumped into disposal wells. Up to half of all California oil and gas wells are fracked, according to the California Council on Science and Technology.

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