California state officials knowingly let oil and gas drillers dump 3 billion gallons of wastewater from fracking into underground aquifers that supply both irrigation and drinking water in the state’s San Joaquin Valley – a move that has both sides of the aisle irate.
It all comes as the state is experiencing an historic drought.
Official records also indicate that that the dumping may have violated state and federal laws, NBC Bay Area’s investigation unit discovered.
“Recent documents from the state water board have shown that in at least nine cases injection well operators have injected over three billion gallons of toxic oil industry wastewater into aquifers that were clean and supposed to be protected under state and federal law,” Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity, told the San Francisco NBC affiliate.
Farmers say it will have a devastating impact.
“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” almond grower Tom Frantz said of the dumping. Reporter Stephen Stock discovered that some of the injection wells were located in the middle of residential neighborhoods.
Water Wells Contaminated by Arsenic
At least one of the injection wells was across the street from homes where families rely on wells for drinking water.
“No one in these communities will drink from the water coming out of their sinks,” community organizer Juan Flores told the TV station, referencing the areas affected outside of Bakersfield. “The people are worried. They’re scared.”
As many as 108 water supply wells, including some residential ones, are located within one mile of seven of the injection wells, the California Department of Conservation reported. High levels of toxins, including arsenic, nitrate and thallium, were discovered. All total, 11 injection wells were shut down.
Fracking produces massive amounts of wastewater when well operators inject high-pressure water into the ground to extract oil and gas. They must then dispose of the wastewater.
The area around Bakersfield is one of America’s largest oil and gas fields, containing tens of thousands of wells.
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The injection occurred because a state agency improperly gave drillers permits to dump wastewater in the wrong area, a state official admitted. James Marshall, the chief deputy director of the Department of Conservation, told Stock that the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) knew little about some of the wells.
Safe Drinking Water Act Violated
“When you’re talking about wells that were permitted in 1985 to 1992, we’ve tried to go back and talk to some of the permitting engineers,” Marshall said. “And it’s unfortunate but in some cases they (the permitting engineers) are deceased.
“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 said. “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.”
California violated a federal law called the Safe Drinking Water Act by allowing the fracking in the specific areas with high quality water, a letter from the US EPA to the California Environmental Protection Agency alleges. High quality water is considered safe for people and animals to drink.
“EPA approves the locations where injection into groundwater aquifers may be allowed,” the letter stated. “These aquifers are generally those that are not used and have no use as potential sources of drinking water. Aquifers with high quality water are protected and should not receive Class 11 oil and gas related injection fluids.”
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