Environmental Working Group

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.

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.

ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Environmental Working Group Reveals EPA Knowledge of Water Contamination From Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been known by the EPA to contaminate underground sources of drinking water since 1987. In a 25-year old investigative report, discovered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Earthjustice, the EPA outlines how fracking for shale gas contaminated a domestic water well in West Virginia.

In a full-length report, called “Cracks in the Façade,” the EWG describes how the uncovered document contradicts the gas industry’s claim that there are no documented cases of water contamination due to fracking. 

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted.

Natural Gas Industry Rhetoric Versus Reality

As the recent natural gas industry attacks on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland demonstrate, the gas industry is mounting a powerful PR assault against journalists, academics and anyone else who speaks out against the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other threats to public health and the environment from shale gas development. DeSmogBlog has analyzed some of the common talking points the industry and gas proponents use to try to convince the public and lawmakers that fracking is safe despite real concerns raised by residents living near gas drilling sites, whose experiences reveal a much more controversial situation.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the ‘safety’ of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality.

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