California's Wastewater Injection Problem Is Way Worse Than Previously Reported

Documents released this week as part of the EPA’s investigation into the state of California’s underground injection control program show that in addition to hundreds of wastewater injection wells there are thousands more wells illegally injecting fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

At a time when California is experiencing extreme and prolonged drought, you might expect state regulators to do everything they can to protect sources of water that could be used for drinking and irrigation. But that simply isn’t the case.

For every barrel of oil produced in California — the third largest oil-producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota — there are 10 barrels of wastewater requiring disposal. California produces roughly 575,000 barrels of oil a day, meaning there are nearly 6 million barrels of wastewater produced in the Golden State on a daily basis — a massive waste stream that state regulators have utterly failed to manage properly.

In meeting a February 6 deadline imposed by the EPA to provide a plan for dealing with the problems rampant in its Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II Program, regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) revealed that nearly 2,500 wells have been permitted to inject oil and gas waste into protected aquifers, a clear violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

More than 2,000 of the wells are currently active, with 490 used for injection of oil and gas wastewater and 1,987 used to dispose of fluids or steam used in enhanced oil recovery techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection.

“The Division acknowledges that in the past it has approved UIC projects in zones with aquifers lacking exemptions,” DOGGR told the EPA in a letter dated Feb. 6.

California Regulators Allowed Oil Industry To Drill Hundreds Of Wastewater Injection Wells Into Aquifers With Drinkable Water

Update 02/11/15: The problems with California's underground injection control program are far worse than originally reported. It has now been revealed that California regulators with DOGGR not only permitted hundreds of wastewater injection wells but also thousands more wells injecting fluids for “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Original post: The fallout from the ongoing review of California’s deeply flawed Underground Injection Control program continues as new documents reveal that state regulators are investigating more than 500 injection wells for potentially dumping oil industry wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as well as state law.

Last July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 wastewater injection wells in California. In October, nine of the wells were confirmed to have been illegally dumping wastewater into protected aquifers.

Now a letter from Steve Bohlen, the State Oil and Gas Supervisor for California’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), sent to the EPA on August 18, 2014 but just revealed via a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that the problem is much more widespread than previously disclosed to the public.

A copy of the letter was shared with DeSmogBlog by the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA has confirmed to us and to the San Francisco Chronicle that Steve Bohlen’s list shows 532 wells believed to be injecting into protected aquifers,” according to Patrick Sullivan, a spokesperson for the CBD.

Under federal law, any aquifer with water that contains less than 10,000 parts-per-million of total dissolved solids (such as salt and other minerals) is protected. Sullivan told DeSmog that the 532 wells are all injecting wastewater into water that is either cleaner than 10,000 ppm TDS or with unknown TDS. CBD has mapped all of the injection wells in question.

“We know that at least 170 of these wells were drilled into aquifers with TDS of below 3,000 — which means they are suitable for drinking water,” Sullivan says. “Hundreds more are injecting into aquifers below 10,000 TDS, which is water that likely could be made usable.”

In response to the revelations, CBD sent a letter to the EPA demanding an immediate shutdown of all oil industry injection wells in the state that are injecting wastewater into protected aquifers.

“Because the state has failed to protect our water or uphold the law, action by the EPA Administrator is legally required,” the letter states. “In the midst of an unprecedented drought and when so many Californians lack access to safe, clean drinking water, it is outrageous to allow contamination of drinking and irrigation water to continue.”

Obama’s Secret Anti-Environmental Agenda: Ring Of Fire Features DeSmog On Obama Policies That Fly In The Face Of Climate Legacy

The new Republican majority in the Senate was just a few hours old when Mitch McConnell vowed to pass legislation that would greenlight the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, despite President Obama’s veto threat.

That’s just one of the many domestic actions that would undermine efforts by the Obama Administration to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy. But the thing is, Obama himself regularly supports policies that are at odds with his purported climate legacy, like the recent news that his administration is quietly allowing oil companies to skirt the crude oil export ban.

An all-star cast of DeSmog experts—including DeSmog Canada managing editor Carol Linnitt, DeSmogBlog executive director Brendan DeMelle and DeSmog contributor Justin Mikulka—recently joined Farron Cousins on Ring of Fire Radio to discuss “Obama’s Secret Anti-Environmental Agenda.” Watch it here:

Obama Vows To Fight For Climate Policies In State Of The Union But What He Didn’t Mention Was Just As Telling

President Barack Obama could not have signaled more clearly in his 2015 State of the Union address that he intends to fight for his legacy on climate change in the face of a hostile, anti-science GOP-led House and Senate.

But it was what the President didn’t mention that could negate his climate legacy: free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership that undermine local efforts to lower emissions, projects like Keystone XL that lock us into decades of continued dirty energy use, and the exporting of American-made coal, crude oil and natural gas to overseas markets.

Which is not to say that every policy position Obama laid out regarding energy and the environment entirely matched his lofty rhetoric about climate change.

Low Prices Driving Record U.S. Crude Oil Exports Despite Crude Oil Export Ban

Are you more desperate to get a better deal when you’re poor? I guess you are.”

That was John Auers, executive vice president of oil industry consulting firm Turner Mason & Company, describing the oil industry as being “poor” and “desperate” to Bloomberg.

As the oil industry cries poverty due to low oil prices in an effort to justify its attempts to lift all restrictions on exporting crude oil produced in the U.S., it is helpful to remember that this is an industry that was demanding tax breaks for oil production even when, in 2013, the top 5 companies made a combined $93 billion in profits. In just the second quarter of 2014 alone, a year of poverty and desperation, as the industry tells it, ExxonMobil made $8.8 billion in profit.

The “better deals” that John Auers was talking about are to be found on the global market, which technically isn’t open to those “poor” U.S. crude oil producers due to the crude oil export ban. Crude oil that is produced in the U.S. is worth more if it is sold on the world market than if it is sold in the United States.

So, it should come as no surprise that in November, as oil prices began falling, U.S. producers went about finding ways to export oil using some existing exemptions from the Reagan era as well as some new approaches. Their efforts resulted in the U.S. breaking the all-time monthly export record in November 2014. The previous record was set in 1957, a time when there was no export ban.

“California Crossroads Tour” Calls On Governor Jerry Brown To Ban Fracking

California Governor Jerry Brown recently proposed the most ambitious renewable energy targets in the US, but that does not mitigate his support for the controversial high-intensity oil extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), according to activists who have embarked on a statewide tour to call for the governor to ban the practice.

Organized by Californians Against Fracking—a coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups including 350.org, Food & Water Watch, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment—the “California Crossroads Tour” is aimed at not just ending dangerous oil extraction methods but is also calling on Governor Brown to go even further than he did with his recent proposal to change the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from 33% by 2020 to 50% by 2030.

Instead, the activists want Brown to put policies in place that would end the Golden State’s addiction to fossil fuels once and for all.

“California is at a crossroads,” David Braun of Californians Against Fracking and an organizer of the tour said in a press release. “Our governor and our elected officials need to decide if we’re going to be a real leader on climate change, or if we will continue to allow fracking and other dangerous extractions methods that put our communities and environment at risk.”

California Court Rejects Misleading Language In Local Fracking Ballot Initiative--Twice

Residents of La Habra Heights in Los Angeles County, California want their city to become the latest to ban fracking and other high intensity oil extraction methods, and have placed an initiative on the March 2015 ballot to do just that.

The residents and activists seeking to ban fracking in La Habra Heights won a significant battle on New Year’s Eve when inaccurate and misleading ballot language backed by the oil and gas industry was rejected by the Los Angeles Superior Court. Now they've won a second victory against the oil and gas companies trying to game the citizen initiative system.

“The Healthy City Initiative,” also known as Measure A, seeks to ban fracking and would also prohibit any new oil and gas wells from being drilled within city limits, as well as bar dormant wells from being reactivated. The intention is to stop La Habra Heights from becoming the latest fracking boom town without shuttering current oil and gas development projects, so as to have as minimal an impact on the local economy as possible while ensuring the future health and viabillity of the community.

Earthjustice sued the city of La Habra Heights on December 1 on behalf of residents, La Habra Heights Oil Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity after the city included oil and gas industry language on the ballot that, according to an Earthjustice press release, “inaccurately summarizes the language that was circulated to and signed by voters in order to place the initiative on the ballot in the first place.”

California Communities Fighting Back Against Prospect Of 25-Fold Crude-By-Rail Increase

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded, and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane, or petroleum coke. But soon two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy. Valero is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

And it’s a sign of the times.

Crude by rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming industry gets its way in creating more crude by rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each

While the oil and gas industry likes to claim that fracking is not an especially water intensive process, a new report has found that there are more than 250 wells across the country that each require anywhere from 10 to 25 million gallons of water.

The American Petroleum Institute suggests that the typical fracked well uses “the equivalent of the volume of three to six Olympic sized swimming pools,” which works out to 2-4 million gallons of water.

But using data reported by the industry itself and available on the FracFocus.org website, Environmental Working Group has determined that there are at least 261 wells in eight states that used an average of 12.7 million gallons of water, adding up to a total of 3.3 billion gallons, between 2010 and 2013. Fourteen wells used over 20 million gallons each in that time period (see chart below).

According to EWG, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are in drought-stricken areas. Many parts of Texas, for instance, are suffering through a severe and prolonged drought, yet the Lone Star State has by far the most of what EWG calls “monster wells” with 149. And 137 of those were found to be in abnormally dry to exceptional drought areas.

Texas also has the dubious distinction of having the most wells using fresh water in the fracking process. In 2011 alone, more than 21 billion gallons of fresh water were used for fracking Texas wells. Increased pumping by companies seeking to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation, meanwhile, has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.


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