wastewater

Environmentalists Are Taking California To Court Over Illegal Oil Industry Wastewater Injection

Environmentalists filed a motion requesting a preliminary injunction today in a California court to immediately stop the daily illegal injection of millions of gallons of oil field wastewater into protected groundwater aquifers in the state.

Last week, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in Alameda County Superior Court that challenges California regulators’ emergency rules meant to rein in the state’s disastrous Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

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.”

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.

Legislators Call Out California Regulators’ “Corrupt, Inept” Management Of Underground Wastewater Injection

The fallout from California officials’ failure to properly oversee the disposal of oil industry wastewater continued this week as lawmakers grilled officials with the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency for two hours while seeking assurances that they were getting the problem under control.

According to the LA Times, state senators “called the agency’s historic practices corrupt, inept, and woefully mismanaged.”

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who said that reading the background materials ahead of the hearing “caused her blood pressure to soar,” per the Times, pretty much nailed it when she said, “There has been a serious imbalance between the role [of] regulating the oil and gas industry and the role of protecting the public.”

DeSmog helped break the initial story in this ongoing saga last year when 11 underground injection wells were ordered to shut down over fears they were pumping toxic and carcinogenic chemical-laden wastewater from fracking and other oil production processes into groundwater aquifers protected under federal law. Last week, 12 more injection wells were shut down for the same reason.

In the intervening months, the true extent of the problem has slowly come to light. It was revealed in February that regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) wrongfully issued permits for close to 500 wells to inject oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing water that is useable or could be made useable—water that is badly needed in drought-stricken California and should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

More California Oil Industry Wastewater Injection Wells Shut Down Over Fears Of Groundwater Contamination

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.

USGS: Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells Are Causing Oklahoma Earthquakes

Some of the most heavily fracked parts of the US have experienced an unprecedented wave of earthquakes in recent years even though they’ve long been considered geologically stable. But the oil and gas industry is quick to reject any suggestion that fracking is to blame.

The United States Geological Survey, for its part, has said in the past that the injection of fracking wastewater into deep geologic formations was a likely cause of the increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.

Now the agency has made it official.

“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.,” the USGS said in a press release.

Several scientists and seismologists with the USGS, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a paper in the journal Science that calls for greater transparency from the oil and gas industry, as well as collaboration between industry, government, and the public, in order to mitigate the impacts of these “human-induced earthquakes.”

There were more earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher in Oklahoma last year than in California. Several were of a magnitude greater than 5 and caused considerable damage.

The problem has become so prevalent that Oklahomans have started seeking earthquake insurance, which insurers used to dismiss with a laugh. But even as seismic activity increased since the rise of fracking in 2008, the industry and Oklahoma regulators took no meaningful action to protect residents, which is no surprise given how integral the oil and gas industry is to Oklahoma’s economy.

Company Presses Forward on Plans to Ship Fracking Wastewater via Barge in Ohio River, Drawing Objections from Locals

A major dispute is brewing over transporting wastewater from shale gas wells by barge in the Ohio River, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

On January 26, GreenHunter Water announced that it had been granted approval by the U.S. Coast Guard to haul tens of thousands of barrels from its shipping terminal and 70,000-barrel wastewater storage facility on the Ohio River in New Matamoras, Ohio.

“The U.S. Coast Guard approval is a significant 'win' for both GreenHunter Resources and our valued clients,” Kirk Trosclair, Chief Operating Officer at GreenHunter Resources, Inc., said in a statement announcing the Coast Guard's approval. “Our ability to transport disposal volumes via barge will significantly reduce our costs, improve our margins and allow us to pass along savings to our clients.”

Outraged environmental advocates immediately objected to the news.

Despite the thousands of comments from residents along the Ohio River opposing the risk of allowing toxic, radioactive fracking waste to be barged along the Ohio River, the Coast Guard quietly approved the plan at the end of 2014,” said Food & Water Watch Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello.

The Coast Guard is risking man-made earthquakes, drinking water contamination, leaks and spills. This approval compromises not only the health and safety of the millions who get their drinking water from the Ohio River but will increase the amount of toxic fracking waste that will be injected underground in Southeast Ohio.”

But the company's announcement was in fact made before the Coast Guard completed its review of the hazards of hauling shale gas wastewater via the nation's waterways – a process so controversial given the difficulty of controlling mid-river spills and the unique challenges of handling the radioactivity in Marcellus shale brine that proposed Coast Guard rules have drawn almost 70,000 public comments.

GreenHunter's move drew a sharp rebuke from Coast Guard officials. 

Fracking Flowback From California Oil Wells Found To Contain Dangerous Levels Of Carcinogenic and Toxic Chemicals

Adding to the already lengthy list of reasons to be concerned about the disposal of oil industry wastewater in California, the Center for Biological Diversity says it has found dangerous levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and toluene in fracking flowback.

Flowback is a fluid that floats up to the surface of fracked wells that contains clays, dissolved metal ions and total dissolved solids (such as salt) in addition to chemical additives used in the fracking process.

As such, flowback is a component of oil industry wastewater, and one of the chief reasons why the wastewater must be disposed of in a very cautious manner.

In California, where the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals were found to be present in flowback by the CBD, oil industry wastewater is not, unfortunately, disposed of in a cautious manner.

The most common wastewater disposal method is to inject it underground. It was recently revealed that California regulators have allowed hundreds of injection wells to pump wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Regulators also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

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.

DeSmogCAST 10: California Fracking Waste, Keystone Climate Impacts and Energy East Pipeline

In this episode of DeSmogCAST our team discusses an ongoing investigation into hundreds of aquifers in California that may have been contaminated with fracking waste. 
 
We also discuss a letter submitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the State Department which gives new weight to concerns the proposed $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline, destined to carry crude from the Alberta oilsands to export facilities along the Gulf of Mexico, will have significant climate impacts.
 
Finally we discuss the Energy East pipeline, a massive project currently proposed by TransCanada, the same company behind Keystone. 

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