What’s In The Recycled Oil Field Wastewater Sprayed On California Crops?

“You can't find what you don't look for,” UC Berkeley researcher Seth B.C. Shonkoff recently told the LA Times, referring to the chemicals that state regulators don’t know to test for in the recycled wastewater the California oil industry sells for use on crops here in the top agricultural producing state in the US.

Chevron produces more than 10 times as much water as it does oil at its Kern River oil field in California’s Central Valley, for instance — 760,000 barrels of water a day versus 70,000 barrels of oil. Half of that water is treated and sold to the Cawelo Water District in Bakersfield, which mixes it with fresh water and sells it exclusively to farmers.

Nobody knows if that water contains chemicals from fracking or other extreme oil extraction techniques, because the companies aren't required to test for them before selling the water. Nobody knows what those chemicals are, anyway, because companies aren't required to make that information public.

North Dakota Town Evacuated After Oil Train Derailment, Explosion

An oil train derailment and subsequent fire early this morning near Heimdal, a rural town in central North Dakota, has led to the evacuation of nearby residents. The Associated Press reports that the accident occurred at 7:30am and that ten tanker cars of a BNSF Railway train were burning, “creating thick black smoke.” There are no reports at this time of anyone having been hurt in the explosion or its aftermath.

Firefighters and hazardous materials teams have been sent to the scene, and a team of investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to arrive by mid-day, while the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly sending someone to monitor nearby waterways for contamination, per the AP.

How Much Water Does The California Oil Industry Actually Use?

When California Governor Jerry Brown issued mandatory water restrictions for the first time in state history, he notably excluded the agriculture and oil industries from the conservation efforts, a decision that was heavily criticized.

The oil industry, for its part, insists it is a responsible user of water. The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry lobbying group, for instance, wrote that “Oil companies are doing their part to conserve, recycle and reduce the water they use to produce oil and refine petroleum products.”

Some perspective is certainly needed here: the amount of water used to produce oil in California is, in fact, dwarfed by the amount used for agriculture. But the thing is, the state can’t make any fully informed decisions about whether or not to include oil development in water cuts because no one knows exactly how much water the California oil industry is using in the first place. That all changes on April 30, however.

Last September, Governor Brown signed into law SB 1281, which requires companies to make quarterly reports to state regulators at the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) detailing the source and volume of water — whether fresh, treated, or recycled — used during oil development processes, including extreme oil extraction methods like fracking, acidization and steam injection. The first set of data required to be reported to DOGGR under SB 1281 is due at the end of the month.

Required reporting on water usage is an important first step in devising an effective water conservation plan for drought-wracked California, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, tells DeSmogBlog.

“Without good data, we can’t have good policy,” Gleick says. “And it’s long overdue that the oil industry be transparent about water use and water quality. So I’m looking forward to more transparency.”

"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Show Deliberate Falsification Of Evidence In Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.”

California Urban Water Use Restricted While Regulators Give Oil Industry Two More Years To Operate Injection Wells In Protected Groundwater Aquifers

With snowpack levels at just 6% of their long-term average, the lowest they’ve ever been in recorded history, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new regulations to cut urban water use 25%, the first ever mandatory water restrictions in the state.

California is in the fifth year of its historic, climate-exacerbated drought and, per a recent analysis by a senior water scientist at NASA, has only one year of water left in its reservoirs, while groundwater levels are at an all-time low.

The Golden State’s towns and cities only account for about 20% of all water used for human purposes, however (including residential, institutional, industrial and commercial uses). Agriculture uses the other 80%.

Half of the produce grown in America comes from California, yet 2015 is likely to be the second year in a row that California’s farmers get no water allocation from state reservoirs. In some parts of the state, agricultural operations have pumped so much groundwater that the land is starting to sink.

Governor Brown’s executive order has been criticized for not including restrictions on groundwater pumping by agricultural operations, but Brown defended the decision, saying that hundreds of thousands of acres of land were already lying fallow because of the state’s water crisis.

There’s another industry conspicuously exempt from California’s new water restrictions, though. “Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest uses of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest,” Zack Malitz of the environmental group Credo says, according to Reuters.

The Only Legal Challenge To Local Fracking Bans In California Was Just Quietly Dropped

The only lawsuit seeking to overturn any of the local fracking bans in the state of California has been dropped.

Southern California-based Citadel Exploration filed a suit on February 27 against San Benito County’s Measure J, which voters approved by a wide margin last November despite the oil and gas industry outspending its opponents 13-to-1 in an attempt to defeat the measure.

Citadel had called Measure J an “illegal local statutory scheme” and argued that only the state has the right to regulate oil and gas development, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The company has not released any further statements or responded to requests for comment on why it chose to drop the suit.

But anti-fracking activists and others who have worked on the fracking bans have their own theories.

“It's pretty clear to me now that the oil industry was bluffing,” Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher who helped run the Measure J campaign, told the San Jose Mercury News. “As they examined their hand, they realized it was pretty weak.”

Calls For Immediate Shutdown Of Illegal California Injection Wells As Regulators Host 'Aquifer Exemption Workshop'

While California legislators are calling for immediate closure of the thousands of injection wells illegally dumping oil industry wastewater and enhanced oil recovery fluids into protected groundwater aquifers, regulators with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) were holding an “Aquifer Exemption Workshop” in Long Beach on Tuesday.

Just 23 out of the 2,500 wells DOGGR officials have acknowledged the agency improperly permitted to operate in aquifers that contain potentially drinkable water have so far been closed down — 11 were closed down last July and 12 more were shut down earlier this month.

Given the urgency of the situation, it certainly does not look good that DOGGR made time to hold a workshop to outline “the data requirements and process for requesting an aquifer exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” when it has given itself a two-year deadline to investigate the thousands more wells illegally operating in groundwater aquifers that should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act all along.

Last Friday, state legislators sent Governor Jerry Brown a letter calling for the immediate closure of the wells, writing that “the decision to allow thousands of injection wells to continue pumping potentially hazardous fluids into protected aquifers is reckless.”

And protestors with Californians Against Fracking were outside the Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport on Tuesday to greet DOGGR officials as they showed up for their workshop.

“Pipeline Nation” Short Documentary Investigates Lack Of Oversight Of “America’s Broken Industry”

In a new short documentary called “Pipeline Nation: America’s Broken Industry,” Vice News travels to Glendive, Montana, where a pipeline ruptured on January 17 of this year, spilling 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminating the town’s drinking supply.

This was the second oil spill in the area in the past four years. An Exxon pipeline spilled over 60,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana in 2011.

The spill near Glendive involved Bakken crude, which is lighter and more volatile than heavy crude and evaporates more quickly, making it difficult to clean up.

“Our recovery of oil out of the water, it’s just… we’re not really getting much,” Paul Peronard, On-Site Coordinator for the EPA, tells Vice’s Nilo Tabrizy in the film. “Three-hundred-something barrels out of the pipeline in this immediate area, less than a couple barrels actually out of the water. So pretty much what is in the water is there and gone. And we aren’t going to recover it.”

“We never — and I’ll be clear about that — we never recover all the oil. Somebody who tells you that is telling you stories. In good conditions, you get half of the oil that hits the water.”

Shell, ENI Responsible for 550 Oil Spills In Nigeria Last Year

Late last year, it came to light that Shell had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline was at significant risk of failure well before a 2008 spill of 500,000 barrels of oil. It was also revealed that Shell had drastically understated the extent of the spill.

These revelations were made during the proceedings of a lawsuit brought by a group of 15,000 Nigerians over a second spill from the same pipeline and helped lead to a much heftier payment by the company to the Bodo community in the Niger Delta in compensation for the impacts of both spills.

It would appear that the company has still not managed to correct whatever problems are leading to its poor safety and environmental performance in Nigeria, however, as Shell was responsible for more than 200 oil spills in the country last year alone, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

As horrible as Shell’s record is, Italian oil giant ENI managed to outdo the Hague-based multinational oil and gas titan. ENI's operations caused nearly 350 spills last year even though it operates in a much smaller area, the report states.

“These figures are seriously alarming. ENI has clearly lost control over its operations in the Niger Delta. And despite all its promises, Shell has made no progress on tackling oil spills,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director, said in a statement.

“In any other country, this would be a national emergency. In Nigeria it appears to be standard operating procedure for the oil industry. The human cost is horrific — people living with pollution every day of their lives.”


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