The latest in the ongoing investigation into California regulators’ failure to protect residents from toxic oil industry waste streams has led to the closure of 12 more underground injection wells. The 12 wells that were shut down this week are all in the Central Valley region, ground zero for oil production in the state.
California has roughly 50,000 underground injection wells. State officials are investigating just over 2,500 of them to determine whether or not they are injecting toxic chemical-laden oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing usable water (or at least potentially usable water) that should have been protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
A coalition of environmental, health and public advocacy groups filed a legal petition with Governor Jerry Brown last week in an attempt to force an emergency moratorium on fracking after it was discovered that flowback, a fluid that rises to the top of a fracked well, contains alarmingly high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
Fracking flowback is an increasingly prevalent component of the oil industry wastewater that is being injected into the state’s aquifers, as fracking is now used in up to half of all new wells drilled in California.
Prompted by an inquiry by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, state officials shut down 11 wastewater injection wells last year over similar concerns that they were polluting badly needed sources of water in a time of prolonged drought. It was later confirmed that 9 of those wells were in fact pumping wastewater into protected aquifers—some 3 billion gallons of wastewater, by one estimate.
Since then, the fallout has continued at a rapid pace, with a new revelation coming seemingly every other month. In just the past few months, for instance, the scope of the problem has ballooned from hundreds of injection wells allowed to dump oil industry wastewater into protected aquifers to thousands more wells permitted to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques such as acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.
This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally...