From NBC Bay Area:
State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.
Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.
“It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”
California’s Department of Conservation’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, told NBC Bay Area, “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.”
“There have been past issues where permits were issued to operators that they shouldn’t be injecting into those zones and so we’re fixing that,” Marshall added.
In “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing operations, oil and gas companies use massive amounts of water to force the release of underground fossil fuels. The practice produces large amounts of waste water that must then be disposed of.
“As many as 40 water supply… wells are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers”
Marshall said that often times, oil and gas companies simply re-inject that waste water back deep underground where the oil extraction took place. But other times, Marshall said, the waste water is re-injected into aquifers closer to the surface. Those injections are supposed to go into aquifers that the EPA calls “exempt”—in other words, not clean enough for humans to drink or use.
But in the State’s letter to the EPA, officials admit that in at least nine waste water injection wells, the waste water was injected into “non-exempt” or clean aquifers containing high quality water.
For the EPA, “non-exempt” aquifers are underground bodies of water that are “containing high quality water” that can be used by humans to drink, water animals or irrigate crops.
If the waste water re-injection well “went into a non-exempt aquifer. It should not have been permitted,” said Marshall.
The department ended up shutting down 11 wells: the nine that were known to be injecting into non-exempt aquifers, and another two in an abundance of caution.
In its reply letter to the EPA, California’s Water Resources Control Board said its “staff identified 108 water supply wells located within a one-mile radius of seven…injection wells” and that The Central Valley Water Board conducted sampling of “eight water supply wells in the vicinity of some of these… wells.”
“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.
According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.
That well is located in an area with several homes nearby, right in the middle of a citrus grove southeast of Bakersfield.
Below is a copy of Bishop’s Letter to the EPA, with the most relevant sections highlighted