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.

Peabody Coal Lawyer Laurence Tribe, Obama's Law Professor, Testifies in Congress vs. EPA Carbon Rule

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School and of-counsel at the firm Massey & Gail LLP, recently testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce against the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule

Currently working as legal counsel for coal industry giant Peabody Energy and helping the company write comments, Tribe submitted a 57-page legal memo to accompany his five-minute testimony (starting at 22:43). In December 2014, Tribe submitted 35 pages worth of comments to the EPA on its proposed rule.

Joining Tribe were both New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz and Hunton & Williams attorney Allison Wood, who testified for and against the Clean Power Plan, respectively. But Tribe served as the star witness and fielded most of the questions from the Committee during the question-and-answer session.

Fittingly given his distinguished legal background, Tribe argued against the Clean Power Plan on constiutional law grounds. 

“Burning the Constiution should not become part of our national energy policy,” Tribe wrote in the early pages of the legal memo he submitted to the Committee. “At its core, the issue the Clean Power Plan presents is whether EPA is bound by the rule of law and must operate within the framework established by the United States Constitution.”

He also proposed a solution — favored by his client Peabody  in a section titled, “There is a Better Way.”

“The United States could…support carbon capture and storage technologies,” Tribe wrote, not mentioning Peabody's advocacy for so-called “clean coal.” 

“An 'all of the above' energy policy can support all forms of domestic energy production that will minimize carbon emissions, protect consumers and American jobs, and ensure that the U.S. remains independent from unreliable foreign sources of energy.”

EPA's National Study into Fracking Narrowed as Key Goals Fall by Wayside Due to Industry Pressure

In 2010, when Congress tasked the EPA with launching a national study of the risks posed by hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists were cautiously optimistic.

“At least the EPA is paying attention,” Don Young, founder of Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations told the Christian Science Monitor in 2010. 

And for a while, there seemed to be strong signs that the EPA planned to conduct a rigorous investigation. At the outset, the agency's plans included investigations into public health impacts, air pollution, well failures, run-off, and a range of other harms associated with the shale drilling rush.

And into 2011, EPA withstood intense pressure from the shale gas industry and its supporters in Congress to sharply narrow the scope of their research, and in particular to focus exclusively on one part of the process, the actual frac job, rather than to look at the full range of impacts from shale oil and gas extraction.

But at the same time, the goals of the national study were drastically narrowed. Plans, for example, to model the hazards potentially posed by dumping radioactive fracking wastewater at sewage treatment plants — essentially flushing it down the drain and allowing it to enter rivers only partially treated, as was common in Pennsylvania at the time — were slashed from the study.

That industry pressure has continued in the years since, and over time, EPA has indeed dramatically lowered its ambitions and limited the scope of its research, leaving only a small fraction of the original study standing, based on a review by DeSmog of internal EPA documents and emails.

Internal Documents Reveal Extensive Industry Influence Over EPA's National Fracking Study

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an ambitious and highly consequential study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies.

This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do – ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected,” Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the agency's Office of Research and Development, said in 2011.

But the EPA's study has been largely shaped and re-shaped by the very industry it is supposed to investigate, as energy company officials were allowed to edit planning documents, insisted on vetting agency contractors, and demanded to review federal scientist's field notes, photographs and laboratory results prior to publication, according to a review by DeSmog of over 3,000 pages of previously undisclosed emails, confidential draft study plans and other internal documents obtained through open records requests.

Company officials imposed demands so infeasible that the EPA ultimately dropped a key goal of the research, their plans to measure pollution levels before and after fracking at two new well sites, the documents show.

All told, the documents raise serious questions about the study's credibility and they highlight a certain coziness between the EPA and Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive oil and gas companies in the shale gas rush.

“[Y]ou guys are part of the team here,” one EPA representative wrote to Chesapeake Energy as they together edited study planning documents in October 2013, “please write things in as you see fit”.

Chesapeake took them up on the offer.

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.

Voices in Arlington, Texas Unify to Protect Environment and Community From Fracking

Liveable Arlington, a new Texas grassroots environmental group, joins the growing number of anti-fracking groups forming around the world. The group was established at the end of January, as the battle to impose stricter ozone standards intensifies and the call for fracking bans and tighter ordinances on industry increase nationwide.

Arlington, Texas, a Dallas suburb, sits atop the natural gas rich Barnett Shale. ”Once Arlington was known as a bedroom community. Now we are in the forefront of a potentially dangerous industrial experiment,” Ranjana Bhandari, one of the co-founders of Liveable Arlington, told DeSmogBlog. “We have lived with fracking all around us for many years now and have experienced its negative effects on air quality, public health, and now the earthquakes,” she says. 

Ranjana Bhandari, co-founder of Livable Arlington, in her backyard. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Bhandari and her family are among the few residents who turned down Chesapeake Energy when the company’s signing agents came seeking their mineral rights. The company offered her an $18,000 per acre bonus that she declined, only to find that the Texas Railroad Commission could strip those rights from her, which they did. 

Low Oil Prices, High Oilsands Emissions Should Influence Keystone XL Decision: EPA

tar sands, oilsands, kris krug

A letter submitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the State Department 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.

The EPA letter suggests existing analyses – which downplay the importance of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project – are out of date and require revision in light of low global oil prices.

Due to the plummeting of oil prices and related market changes “it is important to revisit [the] conclusions” of previous reports, EPA told the State Department.

Given recent large declines in oil prices and the uncertainty of oil price projections, the additional low prices scenario in the (State report) should be given additional weight during decision making, due to the potential implications of lower oil prices on project impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions.”

The State Department is due to release a revised analysis of the Keystone XL project and is currently gathering comments from the EPA and other agencies.

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.”

EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants:

Robert Mathis, an M.D. and doctor of environmental medicine in Santa Barbara, California, described how several of the chemical ingredients of the dispersants that are regularly used on oil spills remain unknown because they are “trade secrets,” but that even the known chemicals in the dispersant cocktails are extremely dangerous to humans; they contain an “emulsifier that allows chemicals deeper penetration into tissues and cells.”

“Dispersants disrupt both bacterial and human cell membranes,” Mathis explained. “Damage disrupts cell functions, leading to cell failure, and may cause cancers and death. All living things are damaged, including groundwater.”

The new guidelines proposed by the agency would give the public broader access to the rules that govern the use of dispersants, the available dispersants for the type of spill, and the risks of using each particular dispersant, sometimes including a list of ingredients.

California Governor Proposes Most Ambitious Renewable Energy Target In U.S.

California Governor Jerry Brown used the occasion of his fourth inaugural address to propose an ambitious new clean energy target for the state: 50% renewable energy by 2030.

“We are at a crossroads,” Brown said in announcing the proposal, according to Climate Progress. “The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative.”

Already the leader in installed solar capacity and third when it comes to wind power, the Golden State had previously adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard mandate to procure 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, a goal it was easily on pace to meet.

Environmentalists were quick to applaud Governor Brown’s 50% by 2030 proposal, which would give California the most ambitious renewable energy target of any US state, eclipsing Hawaii’s 40% by 2030 target.

But given the current growth rate of California’s renewable sector, even 50% by 2030 might not end up being that ambitious, according to Abigail Dillen, Vice President of Climate and Energy for Earthjustice.


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