california

Legal Petition Seeks Emergency Moratorium On Fracking in California

A coalition of over 150 environmental, health, and public advocacy organizations in California filed a legal petition Thursday seeking to compel Governor Jerry Brown to issue an emergency moratorium on fracking in the state.

The proximate cause for the legal petition seems to be revelations that fracking flowback in California was found to contain dangerously high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene and hexavalent chromium. But evidence has been mounting for months that drastic measures are needed, as state regulators have utterly failed to protect residents from the oil and gas industry in California.

Flowback is a fluid that floats to the surface of fracked wells and is a key component of oil industry wastewater, which is most often disposed of by injecting it underground.

Over the past few months, however, it has come to light that regulators with California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) allowed hundreds of injection wells to dump oil industry wastewater into aquifers that contain water clean enough to drink or that could be made drinkable, and hence should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques such as acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

United Steelworkers Oil Refinery Strike Spreads

Workers at Shell and Motiva refineries in Norco, Louisiana, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, have joined the growing national United Steelworkers Union (USW) strike. In total, 15 facilities are now striking, making this the largest refinery strike since 1980.

On the second night of the strike in Norco, a giant flare at the Shell refinery illuminated the workers on the picket line, serving as a reminder of the dangers that come with working at refineries.

“There are a lot of hazards out here,” Bryan Shelton, a media liaison for the union, said. “If you have that much hydrocarbon in one area, you have a chance for a lot of things to go wrong, so if you have someone working too many hours that is a dangerous thing.”

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.

Western States Petroleum Association Spent $8.9M Lobbying Against Climate and Fracking Efforts in California Last Year

Western States Petroleum slideshow

This is a guest post by Dan Bacher.

The oil industry continued its long reign as the top spender on lobbying in California in 2014, according to data just released by the California Secretary of State.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) led the list with $8.9 million spent on lobbying in 2014, nearly double what it spent in the previous year. WSPA spent $4.67 million in 2013.

WSPA apparently spent much of its money on stopping a fracking moratorium bill in the Legislature and trying to undermine California’s law to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of WSPA and the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create questionable “marine protected areas” in Southern California, also successfully opposed legislation by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve and the Tranquillon Ridge from offshore oil drilling plans.

“The winners of the 2014 lobbying competition are in – and the winner is… BIG OIL!’” said Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. “Congratulations, Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron! No one has spent more on evil in California than you!”

The association spent a total of $4,009,178 lobbying state officials in the third quarter of 2014, a new quarterly record by WSPA shows.

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.”

No End In Sight For California’s Climate-Exacerbated Drought

As of January 26, the California Department of Water Resources reported that snowpack statewide was at just 27% of its normal level, which is 15% of the average for April 1, the point at which snow is typically expected to stop accumulating and begin to melt.

Which means, of course, that California is in for another dry year. Melting snowpack provides water to streams and rivers and replenishes reservoirs that are used for drinking water and agriculture.

In a cruel irony, a dry year also means more fossil fuels will have to be burned for electricity to make up for the shortfall in hydropower generation. And burning more fossil fuels will, of course, pump even more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, making global warming worse.

In addition to being the hottest year on record in California, 2014 was also the third year of extreme drought in the state, which scientists tell us is a telltale sign that global warming is already impacting our lives right here and right now.

New Report Spotlights Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Sites in California

A new report from Earthworks shines a light on air pollution, including methane leaks, from oil and gas wells in California, the nation's third largest oil producing state in 2013 – highlighting the ways that potentially toxic gases from the sites raise red flags for the health of those living nearby.

Published Thursday, the report is the first analysis of California's oil and gas air pollution based on infrared video footage combined with air sample testing and revealed toxic gases in the air surrounding oil and gas wells in Kern County and Ventura County. Many of the sites tested were at existing oil and gas wells, including one sample drawn while a well was abandoned. People living near the sites were also surveyed.

“Air sampling revealed the presence of 15 compounds known to have negative effects on human health, as well as 11 compounds for which no health data is available,” the researchers reported.

“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.”

Obama Administration Sued Over Gulf Of Mexico Fracking

At a time when the rest of the world (for a host of reasons) is shying away from the hydraulic fracturing “boom,” the United States appears to be hell-bent on allowing fracking in every available space. The latest target for the industry has been the already imperiled Gulf of Mexico, the same waters that are still reeling from the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

In its haste to allow as much fracking as possible in the Gulf, the Obama administration has repeatedly failed to release information about the dangers of fracking in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as information regarding the total number of permits that have been issued.

But a new lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity seeks to make that information public.

The lawsuit says that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are obligated to release this information to the public. The government has so far failed to respond to the group’s FOIA request to make this information known to the public.

The risks of offshore fracking are well known, and The Center for Biological Diversity has a report that details the dangers that have already been realized off the coast of California, where offshore fracking has been under way for some time.

In that report, the Center uncovered some disturbing trends about the wastewater that is created during fracking:

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