water pollution

While One Louisiana Town's Lead-Tainted Water System Is Replaced, Dozens of Others Deteriorate

A man fills a glass with dirty water from his kitchen sink faucet

For years the discolored water delivered to the northern Louisiana delta town of St. Joseph resembled what one would expect to find in a third-world country. But it wasn’t until high levels of lead were discovered in the town’s municipal water system that work began to replace it. 

On March 6, Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards, along with local officials and state lawmakers, attended a groundbreaking ceremony for St. Joseph's new water system, wielding symbolic golden shovels in the parking lot next to city hall. 

Oil and Gas Lobby Fights California Regulators to Keep Injecting Drilling Wastewater into Protected Aquifers

Three active oil wells in a dry California landscape

Last month the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), missed its own deadline for shutting down 475 oil industry injection wells determined to be dumping toxic fluids into protected California groundwater aquifers. The division said it would continue to allow more than 1,600 other wells to continue injections into federally protected aquifers because it believes they stand a chance of being exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act protections.

Yet the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), a regional oil and gas lobbying group, is still suing the agency to prevent any wells from closing.

High Levels of Chemicals Found in People Living Near Gas Wells: New Report

Chemicals from gas wells were discovered in biological samples drawn from residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, at levels as much as ten times the national averages, according to a new report. The study is the first to sample both the air near drilling sites and the levels of chemicals in people living and working near those wells, allowing researchers to study the ways that toxic air pollutants are entering people's bodies near gas wells and putting their health at risk.

The researchers found evidence of 16 potentially dangerous chemicals in 11 individuals who volunteered to participate in the study by wearing air monitors and providing blood and urine samples. They found benzene, toluene, 2-heptanone, 4 heptanone and evidence of roughly a dozen other substances — including some known to be quite dangerous and others for which little safety information is available.

California Oilfield Operators Refuse To Report Water Usage, In Violation Of The Law

How much water does California’s oil and gas industry actually use? We still don’t know, despite a 2014 law signed by Governor Jerry Brown that went into effect this year requiring companies to report on all water produced, used and disposed of by oilfield operations.

Oil and gas regulators with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) missed the first reporting deadline, April 30, claiming they had simply received too much data to process in time. But now we know there was probably another reason: hundreds of companies had flat out refused to obey the law.

In fact, more than 100 companies still refuse to comply with the water reporting requirements altogether.

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.

What’s In The Recycled Oil Field Wastewater Sprayed On California Crops?

“You can't find what you don't look for,” UC Berkeley researcher Seth B.C. Shonkoff recently told the LA Times, referring to the chemicals that state regulators don’t know to test for in the recycled wastewater the California oil industry sells for use on crops here in the top agricultural producing state in the US.

Chevron produces more than 10 times as much water as it does oil at its Kern River oil field in California’s Central Valley, for instance — 760,000 barrels of water a day versus 70,000 barrels of oil. Half of that water is treated and sold to the Cawelo Water District in Bakersfield, which mixes it with fresh water and sells it exclusively to farmers.

Nobody knows if that water contains chemicals from fracking or other extreme oil extraction techniques, because the companies aren't required to test for them before selling the water. Nobody knows what those chemicals are, anyway, because companies aren't required to make that information public.

California Urban Water Use Restricted While Regulators Give Oil Industry Two More Years To Operate Injection Wells In Protected Groundwater Aquifers

With snowpack levels at just 6% of their long-term average, the lowest they’ve ever been in recorded history, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new regulations to cut urban water use 25%, the first ever mandatory water restrictions in the state.

California is in the fifth year of its historic, climate-exacerbated drought and, per a recent analysis by a senior water scientist at NASA, has only one year of water left in its reservoirs, while groundwater levels are at an all-time low.

The Golden State’s towns and cities only account for about 20% of all water used for human purposes, however (including residential, institutional, industrial and commercial uses). Agriculture uses the other 80%.

Half of the produce grown in America comes from California, yet 2015 is likely to be the second year in a row that California’s farmers get no water allocation from state reservoirs. In some parts of the state, agricultural operations have pumped so much groundwater that the land is starting to sink.

Governor Brown’s executive order has been criticized for not including restrictions on groundwater pumping by agricultural operations, but Brown defended the decision, saying that hundreds of thousands of acres of land were already lying fallow because of the state’s water crisis.

There’s another industry conspicuously exempt from California’s new water restrictions, though. “Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest uses of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest,” Zack Malitz of the environmental group Credo says, according to Reuters.

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.

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.

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