Tag Archives: California Air Resources Board (CARB)

SF CHRONICLE: Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: Significant quote: “The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.”  – RS]

Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Dumped oil, gas byproduct hazardous, watchdog says
By Peter Fimrite, March 7, 2016
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP

Hundreds of open pits containing toxic waste produced by oil and gas drilling are threatening groundwater in California, and regulators have failed to protect drinking and irrigation water supplies from the danger, an environmental watchdog group concludes in a report set to be released Monday.

Oil industry leaders deny that the pits, which are primarily in the Central Valley, have contaminated any groundwater. But the report by Clean Water Action argues that oversight of the waste is so flimsy that the state should immediately prohibit disposal of wastewater in the evaporation pits.

“The oil and gas industry continues to dump toxic wastewater into open waste pits, and that’s threatening, and potentially polluting, groundwater,” said the report’s author, Andrew Grinberg, the special projects coordinator for Clean Water Action, an Oakland nonprofit.

‘Highest standards’

“It’s appalling that the wealthiest industry in the history of civilization can’t deal with its wastewater in a more responsible way,” he said. “State regulators should prohibit this disposal method.”

The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the report’s findings were “simply false.”

She said water disposal practices are monitored and tested by multiple state and local agencies, including the State Department of Conservation, the State Water Resources Control Board and local water quality boards.

“California’s energy producers operate under the nation’s most rigorous laws and regulations, which ensure transparency, accountability and the highest standards,” Reheis-Boyd said. “We outright reject these allegations and rely upon scientific data and our safety record to demonstrate the safe manner in which we operate every day.”

Disposal of oil and gas drilling wastewater is a big issue in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, where most of California’s petroleum production takes place. Kern County is the top oil-producing area in the state, but disposal of waste is also a concern in parts of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, which have been major oil producers since the early 1900s, when the demand for gasoline began growing.

Oil drillers suck up 15 barrels of water for every barrel of oil they reap. If the water is clean enough, it can be treated and used for irrigation, but most of it contains salt, boron, petroleum and other toxic substances that can poison groundwater and kill birds.

The recommended way to get rid of it is to inject it into the ground, preferably into the oil-bearing formation or deep enough so that it won’t seep into an aquifer. For many years, though, standard practice was to dump the water into a pit so that it would evaporate or percolate into the ground. Grinberg said many permits were issued for the pits in the 1950s and 1960s.

No toxic substances found

The report highlighted contamination near disposal facilities known as Racetrack Hills and Fee 34 east of Bakersfield, with a plume of wastewater spreading into an aquifer that supplies irrigation wells and flows into a tributary of the Kern River, a source of drinking water. However, toxic substances have not been detected in drinking water or in wells.

Air monitoring around a western Kern County pond known as the McKittrick Pit detected elevated levels of methane and the compounds benzene and hexanone, according to the report.

“Every year since 1990 it was monitored and inspectors saw it was in violation, but there was no enforcement action,” Grinberg said of McKittrick, adding that the California Air Resources Board is developing plans to monitor air emissions around open pits.

Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Fresno, said operators of both the Racetrack and McKittrick pits have been ordered to expand their monitoring.

“We’re looking at it closely to evaluate whether that series of pits is appropriate,” Rodgers said, explaining that evaporation ponds have gone out of favor in the past two decades. “A lot of these pits have closed down, and now most of the water is disposed of through underground injection.”

In a 2014 report, Clean Water Action presented evidence that the pit technique threatened groundwater and air quality. The state and regional water quality control boards have since stepped up research and enforcement, which the new report noted.

California lawmakers have passed legislation in recent years compelling operators to monitor their wastewater pits and report their findings to the state. Open-pit disposal was also prohibited in hydraulic fracturing operations, known as fracking.

Inaction charged

Grinberg said that while progress has been made, the regional water quality boards are still allowing discharges that threaten groundwater. The Central Valley board has failed to close facilities with open pits or punish companies with no permits, he said.

The report being released Monday also says no studies have been done on 2,074 inactive pits dating back to 1990 that the state has in its inventory, and that the records on these pits are incomplete. Over the past year, Grinberg said, 50 previously undocumented pits have been identified.

“The more they look, the more they are finding,” he said. “This is one negative aspect of oil production. Putting groundwater at additional risk is potentially catastrophic. These polluting activities we don’t believe are worth it, especially during a drought.”

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    California regulators restore emissions-cutting fuel rule

    Repost from the Associated Press

    California regulators restore emissions-cutting fuel rule

    By Judy Lin, Sep. 25, 2015 5:49 PM EDT
    Mary NIchols, Barbara Riordan
    Mary Nichols, left, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, applauds after the board restored ambitious rules to cut transportation fuel emissions 10 percent within 5 years, during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. By a 9-0 vote the board restored rules requiring a 10 percent cut in carbon emissions on fuels sold in the state by 2020, despite oil industry objections that it could drive up gas prices. At right is ARB board member Barbara Riordan. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators on Friday restored ambitious rules to cut transportation fuel emissions 10 percent within 5 years, a decision that gives Gov. Jerry Brown a boost for his climate change agenda.

    The rules further strengthen California’s toughest-in-the-nation carbon emissions standards, but oil producers warn the changes could drive up costs for consumers at the gas pump.

    The changes are expected to add a few cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel in the state that already has some of the highest gas prices in the nation. The state estimates a typical commuter will pay an extra $20 to $24 in 2017, increasing to $52 to $56 in 2020.

    “We are on a path to reduce our dependence on petroleum and this program is a key piece of that action,” Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said ahead of the vote.

    Brown, a Democrat, has vowed to intensify his fight against climate change after the oil lobby helped kill a Democratic legislative proposal earlier this month to slash statewide petroleum use by half in 15 years. The board is the state’s top regulatory agency to enforce rules aimed at reducing air pollution.

    Regulators voted 9-0 to re-adopt its low-carbon fuel standard, which requires producers to cut the carbon content of fuels 10 percent by 2020 to help the state meet its emission-reductions goals.

    The program was initially adopted in 2009 but the reduction target has been frozen at 1 percent because of a court fight. Friday’s vote allows the state to resume its program; modifies rules in response to industry concerns about price spikes; and gives companies more credits for using renewable hydrogen and other investments to reduce pollutants.

    Supporters say the program is worthwhile because it will encourage greater use of cleaner biofuels and electric vehicles, which can be cheaper to operate than those powered by gasoline or diesel.

    “This puts it back on track,” Bill Magavern, policy director at Coalition for Clean Air, an environmental advocacy group, said after the vote. “We have other programs that address vehicle technologies and vehicle miles traveled, and this is the one that tells oil companies to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels.”

    Oil producers counter that the rules are unworkable and too costly. They said the standard will impact consumers as the companies try to comply with the mandate or face being shut out of the market.

    Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil companies, said the low carbon fuel standard jeopardizes the state’s energy future and adds uncertainty.

    “California motorists need to know what is coming and how these regulations will impact transportation fuels,” Reheis-Boyd said in a statement.

    Unlike other rules the state has adopted requiring cleaner-burning fuel or more fuel-efficient vehicles, the standard, first proposed in a 2007 executive order from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calls for counting all the pollution required to deliver gasoline, diesel or alternative fuels to in-state consumers — from drilling a new oil well or planting corn to delivering it to gas stations.

    In addition to tailpipe emissions, it includes factors such as whether an ethanol factory uses coal or natural gas to power production or an oil rig uses diesel fuel to drill.

    Regulators are targeting transportation fuels because California’s roughly 30 million vehicles account for about 40 percent of the state’s emissions — the largest source. The rest comes from generating electricity and industrial manufacturing, as well as commercial, residential and agricultural uses.

    All fuels are measured against a baseline pollution standard. If a fuel falls above or below the baseline, it generates a credit or deficit that other producers can buy and sell to meet the target.

    It’s up to fuel producers to figure out how to meet the goal, whether by changing production methods, using ethanol or electric vehicles for transportation or buying credits on the market.

    After the rule’s initial adoption, out-of-state refiners and ethanol companies were among those who sued, arguing that transporting the fuels into California alone made them less competitive against in-state producers. They argued the law unconstitutionally limits interstate commerce.

    The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a 2013 appeals court decision upholding the fuel standard.

    Opponents continue to challenge the state’s authority to regulate out-of-state production. Oil firms are also trying to block a similar standard enacted in Oregon, the only other state with a clean fuel standard.

    Friday’s move to restore California’s program is not related to Volkswagen drawing international attention for violating separate federal and state rules that regulate emissions from vehicles.

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      SF Chronicle Editorial: California should stick with clean-fuel rule

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      Editorial: California should stick with clean-fuel rule

      San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2015

      Though state lawmakers caved to the oil industry by spiking a plan to sharply reduce gasoline use, there’s another option for Sacramento in reducing climate change and promoting alternative sources to fill gas tanks. State regulators are close to extending a measure that cuts carbon levels in everyday driving fuel.

      The low-carbon standard is among a batch of policies designed to cut carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse-gas culprit blamed for rising temperatures and whipsawing weather. Extending the mandate to cut levels in gas is an essential part of state strategies to curb climate change.

      Reducing the carbon level in gas has other benefits. It spurs development of alternative biofuels to wean California off its petroleum diet. The skies will be clearer and public health improved. It nudges the state toward more low-emission vehicles by showcasing the innovation needed to change gas-burning habits.

      It’s not without controversy. Oil producers and Midwest ethanol producers say the plan is too flawed and complicated to work, an argument that failed in court last year. But this week, a string of major businesses — eBay, KB Home and Dignity Health among them — is backing the fuel rule. “It’s a practical, gradual and manageable transition,” said Anne Kelly, director of the employer coalition known as Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.

      Later this week the state Air Resources Board will consider extending the low-carbon standard, first promulgated in 2007. It’s almost certain to renew the policy, which aims to lower carbon levels by 10 percent by 2020.

      The larger picture should be unmistakable. California is pushing ahead on major climate-change measures that Washington is too timid to undertake. The state is increasing renewable energy to light homes and businesses. Rules to encourage thriftier ways of heating and cooling will be strengthened. The worries about lost jobs and shuttered businesses aren’t proving true as the state’s economy gathers steam.

      Changing the ingredients in gas-pump fuels should be part of this overall trend. Renewing the low-carbon standard will be good for California’s future.

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        Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?

        Repost from the CalMatters.org
        [Editor:  This article also appeared in the 8/9/15 San Francisco Chronicle.  – RS]

        Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?  Probably not

        By Kate Galbraith, August 5, 2015
        Mary Serrano gets instructions on the Chevy Spark PHOTOGRAPH BY Carl Costas for CALmatters

        One sunny Saturday in Stockton, Mary Serrano climbed into the driver’s seat of a bright-red, all-electric Chevrolet Spark. A retiree who normally drives a 20-year-old Toyota Camry, she was curious about the new technology on display at the local fairground.

        “I feel like I’m going to outer space,” she said giddily, as a company representative prepared to explain the controls.

        But after the excitement of the test drive, reality set in. The Camry, which had to be fixed after failing a smog test, will keep its place at her Stockton home. An electric car seems out of reach, despite the availability of rebates.

        “For the moment, I don’t have the money to buy it,” she said by phone, a few months after the fairground event. “Maybe later in life.”

        Her situation suggests that for all the allure of emissions-free vehicles, getting Californians to adopt them will take time. That in turn creates challenges for slashing gasoline and diesel use, a goal state leaders are championing as part of their battle against climate change. A bill that has passed the state Senate and awaits a vote in the Assembly seeks to halve the amount of petroleum used in motor vehicles by 2030. It will be difficult to accomplish in such a short period.

        “If we’re talking about transportation petroleum use, then the goal probably isn’t possible,” said John German, a Michigan-based senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation. A key problem, he said, is that people hold onto cars and trucks for a long time, an average of more than 11 years for American cars.

        The bill has the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown, who earlier this year called for the state to cut petroleum use in cars and trucks by “up to 50 percent.” Senate Bill 350 contains an unequivocal 50 percent target.

        “I wouldn’t set forth on this pathway if I believed that the targets were unrealistic,” said Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, the bill’s powerful co-author, in a recent interview.

        Other parts of the legislation call for electric utilities to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for buildings to become twice as energy efficient.

        “We should be careful when we set round numbers like 50-50-50. Why 50?” said Eloy Garcia, who lobbies for the Western States Petroleum Association, in testimony before an Assembly committee in July. “I know they’re nice round numbers, but we should be careful about why we’ve picked those numbers.”

        The bill would take gasoline use in the state back to the 1960s, a time when California’s population was close to half of what it is today. It would not only help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a priority for the state, but also reduce the fine particles and smog-forming gases that contribute to unhealthy air above some California cities, including Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Fresno.

        “The primary driver of this target was air quality,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the state agency overseeing air quality and climate change policy, wrote in an e-mail.

        The ARB would oversee the programs, creating a point of controversy because industry groups perceive it as high-handed, even as environmentalists cheer it on. Petroleum lobbyists and other opponents want elected legislators to plan how the goals will be met and not the appointed air board officials.

        Currently, trends are moving in the wrong direction. Gasoline and diesel sales are ticking up, the sign of a surging economy. The number of miles traveled by vehicles on California highways — a crucial metric for determining whether Californians are getting out of their cars and onto bikes, sidewalks or public transportation– is also rising.

        But the technology exists to halve petroleum use, as German and others point out. If everyone suddenly began driving emissions-free electric cars, such as the one Serrano tried out, California would easily meet its target. Driven by government fuel-economy and emissions standards, even cars that run on petroleum will be made of lighter, more fuel-efficient materials in the future.

        These coming changes will be dramatic, even if they do not end up being enough to halve petroleum use in 15 years. German’s organization, the International Council on Clean Transportation, estimates that recent federal fuel-economy standards could cause greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles nationwide to fall 28 percent by 2030 compared to 2015.

        Jeffrey Greenblatt, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimates that by 2030, a number of transportation policies already in existence will enable the state to cut petroleum use by cars and trucks to about 70 percent of their 2014 level. Besides federal fuel-economy standards, these include support for public transit and a state goal of having 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles by 2025.

        Another way the state is trying to cut petroleum is by encouraging the use of biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel, provided they are formulated to be as environmentally friendly as possible. (Renewable diesel is made from fats or vegetable oil and specially refined.) At a pump in Redwood City operated by Propel Fuels, several customers opted for 85 percent ethanol rather than the ordinary gasoline available nearby, although helping the environment was not their primary motive.

        “It’s cheaper,” said Donald Rainer of Menlo Park, whose flex-fuel GMC Yukon takes both gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. His main complaint was about refueling stations: “They don’t have enough of them around.”

        For potential buyers of electric cars, too, costs are key. Many plug-in vehicles remain expensive, though prices have been falling and the state subsidizes them in various ways. The cars are limited in how far they can go without recharging, but that problem is diminishing as battery technology improves. Some in the auto industry wonder whether key incentives, such as allowing zero-emissions vehicles into the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on major roads, will remain in place if electric cars flood the roadways.

        As improved fuel-efficiency allows Californians to use less gasoline, then prices at the pump may fall, according to Darwin Hall, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, Long Beach, depending on whether refiners adjust their capacity.

        However, in the near-term, some climate policies are causing the price of gasoline to rise. The state’s cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that fuel distributors, refineries and other large polluters can emit, has increased gasoline prices by roughly a dime a gallon this year, economists estimate.

        Republican lawmakers fear that SB 350 will cause job losses and economic damage. “What are my constituents going to do if we cut petroleum by 50 percent but they are still using cars that require petroleum? Will they all be required to buy new cars?” asked Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, during a floor debate over the bill. Her colleague, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, described it as “coastal elitism at the worst.”

        The bill is expected to have a more difficult time in the Assembly than in the Senate, where it passed the Senate with the support of all but two Democrats: Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside. The Assembly contains more moderate Democrats who have historically been friendly to the oil industry, which has launched a television ad dubbing the bill the “gas restriction act of 2015.”

        The ads target a select group of lawmakers and are running on web sites in their respective districts, said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the industry group called California Drivers Alliance.

        “It is a method of communicating to legislators about an issue we think is of concern to their constituents,” Miller said.

        Sen. de León emphasized that fossil fuels were not going away. Nor, he said, would everyone need to immediately buy an electric car or hybrid. (In his official capacity, de León is chauffeured in a Chevrolet Suburban. For personal use, he leases a Chevrolet Impala and said he aspires to a hybrid.) Establishing targets, he said, is vital to encouraging California down the path toward clean energy, but the policy would not result in banning or rationing gasoline.

        “If we don’t meet this goal,” de León said, “no one’s going to jail.”

        Laurel Rosenhall contributed reporting.

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