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Over Easy: CA allowed oil companies to drill 171 waste disposal wells into aquifers that should be protected

Regional Drought Monitor, West

SFGate reports that California Sate regulators have allowed oil and gas companies to inject waste water into aquifers that were suitable for drinking and crop irrigation- and should have been protected:

Oil companies in drought-ravaged California have, for years, pumped wastewater from their operations into aquifers that had been clean enough for people to drink.

They did it with explicit permission from state regulators, who were supposed to protect the increasingly strained groundwater supplies from contamination.

Instead, the state allowed companies to drill more than 170 waste-disposal wells into aquifers suitable for drinking or irrigation, according to data reviewed by The Chronicle. Hundreds more inject a blend of briny water, hydrocarbons and trace chemicals into lower-quality aquifers that could be used with more intense treatment.

The problem was an apparent result of a combination of poor record keeping, bureaucratic mix-ups between state regulators and the federal EPA, and negligence, according to the article. Most of the aquifers in question are located in California’s Central Valley, which is already experiencing great strain from ongoing drought conditions.

State officials claim that there has been no contamination so far. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given the state a deadline of February 6  to come up with a plan to a) fix the problem and b) explain how it will prevent the problem from happening again in the future.

California is in third position for oil production, behind Texas and North Dakota.

The article quotes opposing views from industry and from an almond farmer as follows:

 “If we’re not able to put the water back, there’s no other viable thing to do with it,” said Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents smaller oil companies in the state. “If you were to shut down hundreds of injection wells, obviously that’s a lot of jobs, a lot of tax revenue.”

Farmers fear that the groundwater they increasingly need to nurture their orchards and crops may one day show signs of pollution, even if it hasn’t surfaced yet.

“When I’m concerned for my farm, I’m looking at future generations and reaching a point where they can’t use the groundwater because of things we’re doing today,” said Tom Frantz, 65, a farmer and retired teacher who grows almonds near the town of Shafter (Kern County).

Reference article:

State let oil companies taint drinkable water in Central Valley


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