Tag Archives: California Department of Conservation

California shuts dozens of oil wells to stop wastewater injection

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

State shuts 33 wells injecting oil wastewater into aquifers

By David R. Baker, October 16, 2015
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

California regulators on Thursday closed 33 oil company wells that had injected wastewater into potentially drinkable aquifers protected by federal law.

The new closures bring to 56 the number of oil-field wastewater injection wells shut down by the state after officials realized they were pumping oil-tainted water into aquifers that potentially could be used for drinking or irrigation.

All but two of the latest closures are in Kern County, in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. One lies in Ventura County, another in northern Los Angeles County. Officials with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources spent Friday verifying that they had, in fact, closed. Of the 33, only 21 had been actively injecting wastewater before Thursday.

“This is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that California’s groundwater resources are protected as oil and gas production take place,” said Steven Bohlen, the division’s supervisor.

California’s oil fields contain large amounts of salty water that comes to the surface mixed with the oil. It must be separated from the petroleum and disposed of, often by injecting it back underground. Much of the water is pumped back into the same geologic formation it came from. But enough left-over water remains that companies must find other places to put it.

Fears of contamination

The division, part of California’s Department of Conservation, for years issued oil companies permits to inject their left-over water into aquifers that were supposed to be off-limits, protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The problem, detailed in a Chronicle investigation earlier this year, raised fears of water contamination in a state struggling through a historic, four-year drought.

So far, however, no drinking water supplies have been found to be tainted by the injections.

Still, some environmentalists expressed outrage that so few wells had been closed.

The division has identified 178 wells that were injecting into legally protected aquifers with relatively high water quality, defined as those with a maximum of 3,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. More than 2,000 other wells inject into aquifers that would be harder to use for drinking water, either because they are too salty or because they also contain oil.

“This is too little, too late to protect our water,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With each passing day the oil industry is polluting more and more of our precious water.”

The division reported Friday, however, that not all 178 wells required closure. Some had already been shut down by their operators, while others had been converted into wells for extracting oil — not dumping wastewater.

An oil industry trade group noted that all of the wells closed Thursday had received state permits, even if the state now acknowledges that those permits should never have been issued.

“Both regulators and producers are committed to protecting underground water supplies, and today’s announcement reinforces the seriousness of that commitment,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

Safeguarding water supplies

“California’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to operating their wells in a manner that continues to safeguard public water supplies,” she said.

Revelations that the division allowed injections into relatively fresh groundwater supplies touched off a political firestorm, triggered lawsuits, and led Bohlen to launch a reorganization of his staff.

More well closures will likely follow. Under regulations adopted this year, wells injecting into aquifers with water quality between 3,000 and 10,000 total dissolved solids must cease injections by Feb. 15, 2017, unless granted an exemption from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

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    CCST Report: Fracking pollution poses major risks

    [Editor:  Contrasting reports on a recent California Council on Science and Technology report.  – RS]

    Repost from The Center for Biological Diversity

    New Study: Fracking Pollution Poses Major Threat to California’s Air, Water

    Scientists’ Warnings Come Too Late to Shape State’s Weak Fracking Regulations

    July 15, 2015

    SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A study released today by the California Council on Science and Technology warns that fracking and other oil extraction techniques emit dangerous air pollution and threaten to contaminate California’s drinking water supplies. Millions of Californians live near active oil and gas wells, which exposes them to the air pollutants indentified in the report.

    The troubling findings come a week after Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil officials finalized new fracking regulations that do little to address such public health and water pollution risks.

    “This disturbing study exposes fatal flaws in Gov. Brown’s weak fracking rules,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies are fouling the air we breathe and using toxic chemicals that endanger our dwindling drinking water. The millions of people near these polluting wells need an immediate halt to fracking and other dangerous oil company practices.”

    Last week the state’s Department of Conservation began implementing new fracking regulations and finalized an assessment of fracking’s health and environmental risks, even though the science council had not finished evaluating fracking’s dangers. The science council is an independent, nonprofit organization that advises California officials on policy issues.

    Today’s report concludes that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high chemical concentrations. That poses a serious threat to aquifers during the worst drought in California history.

    Air pollution is also a major concern. In the Los Angeles area, the report identifies 1.7 million people — and hundreds of daycare facilities, schools and retirement homes — within one mile of an active oil or gas well. Atmospheric concentrations of pollutants near these oil production sites “can present risks to human health,” the study says.

    But Gov. Brown’s new fracking regulations do not address deadly air pollutants like particulate matter and air toxic chemicals. A recent Center analysis found that oil companies engaged in extreme oil production methods have used millions of pounds of air toxics in the Los Angeles Basin.

    Among the science council’s other disturbing findings:

    • California places no limits on how close oil and gas wells can be to homes, schools or daycare facilities, which can expose people to dangerous air pollution from fracking and other oil extraction procedures.
    • Serious concerns are raised over the oil industry’s disposal of fracking waste fluid and produced water into open pits and the use of oil waste fluid to irrigate crops.
    • The health and water pollution impacts of fracking chemicals that could be present in oil waste that’s dumped into open pits “would be extremely difficult to predict, because there are so many possible chemicals, and the environmental profiles of many of them are unmeasured.”
    • Wildlife habitat can be fragmented or lost because of fracking and other oil development – and fracking-related oil development in California “coincides with ecologically sensitive areas” in Kern and Ventura Counties.
    • Confirmation that many oil industry wastewater injection wells are close to active faults — a practice has triggered earthquakes in other states. The science council identified more than 1,000 active injection wells within 1.5 miles of a mapped active fault — and more than 150 are within 656 feet.

    “These troubling findings send a clear message to Gov. Brown that it’s time to ban fracking and rein in our state’s out-of-control oil industry,” Kretzmann said. “California should follow the example set by New York, which wisely banned fracking after health experts there concluded this toxic technique was just too dangerous.”

    Contact: Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121, clakewood@biologicaldiversity.org
    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    Repost from Public News Service

    Report: Fracking Risk to CA is Aquifer Contamination, Not Quakes

    By Suzanne Potter, July 10, 2015
    PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.
    PHOTO: A hydraulic fracturing well in Kern County. The safety of fracking is the subject of a new report. Photo credit: California Council on Science and Technology.

    SACRAMENTO, Calif – A new report says hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater when the excess water is not properly disposed of, but is not linked to earthquakes in California.

    In January, a study by the Seismological Society of America linked a series of earthquakes in Ohio to fracking, and there have been similar claims in other states as well.

    The new study released Thursday comes from the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jane Long, the lead scientific researcher, says hydraulic fracturing poses some safety concerns but they’re manageable.

    “A lot of things people were concerned about are things that are not as big a problem as they think they are,” says Long. “And some of the practices are things that need to change and need more attention.”

    The report says the oil companies should phase out percolation ponds used to dispose of excess water because toxic fracking chemicals can get into the aquifer. And it recommends companies put aside about a third of the chemicals currently in use because there’s not enough data about them.

    The Center for Biological Diversity points to the finding that oil operations can pollute the air in their immediate vicinity. Long is optimistic that the report will spur further reforms.

    “Some of them are going to be recommendations that will be very easy to act on right away and I think they will be acted on and some of them are going to require some process,” she says.

    The report was required by the 2013 passage of State Senate Bill 4, which established new safety measures for fracking, rules that went into effect on July 1.

     

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      State conservation chief quits amid tainted aquifer controversy

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      State conservation chief quits amid tainted aquifer controversy

      By David R. Baker, Friday, June 5, 2015 7:07 pm
      Mark Nechodom Director of California Department of Conservation spoke at a press conference held at One Rincon Hill, located at First and Harrison streets Wednesday May 30, 2012. Both State and Federal scientist have collaborated to install over 72 geological sensors and two and a half miles of wire throughout the 64 stories tower thatÕs home to over six hundred people in San Francisco. Scientists say that there's a 63 percent probability of a damaging earthquake magnitude 6.7 or greater in the next 30 years in the Bay Area. The data collected at One Rincon Hill South Tower could be very helpful scientifically. Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle
      Mark Nechodom Director of California Department of Conservation spoke at a press conference held at One Rincon Hill, located at First and Harrison streets Wednesday May 30, 2012. Both State and Federal scientist have collaborated to install over 72 geological sensors and two and a half miles of wire throughout the 64 stories tower thatÕs home to over six hundred people in San Francisco. Scientists say that there’s a 63 percent probability of a damaging earthquake magnitude 6.7 or greater in the next 30 years in the Bay Area. The data collected at One Rincon Hill South Tower could be very helpful scientifically. Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

      The head of the California Department of Conservation, Mark Nechodom, abruptly resigned Thursday following an outcry over oil companies injecting their wastewater into Central Valley aquifers that were supposed to be protected by law.

      Nechodom, who had led the department for three years, announced his resignation in a brief letter to John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. The Conservation Department is part of the resources agency.

      “I have appreciated being part of this team and helping to guide it through a difficult time,” Nechodom wrote.

      Nechodom did not give a reason for his departure. But a division of the Conservation Department that regulates oil-field operations has come under intense criticism for letting oil companies inject wastewater into aquifers that could have been used for drinking or irrigation.

      A spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Agency said she could not comment on Nechodom’s reasons for leaving, calling it a personnel issue. Jason Marshall, the Conservation Department’s chief deputy director, will lead the department while a permanent replacement is sought.

      The department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources for years improperly issued hundreds of wastewater injection permits into aquifers that should have been protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, a problem detailed in a Chronicle investigation in February.

      By the division’s most recent count, 452 disposal wells went into aquifers whose water, if treated, could have been used for drinking or irrigation. Another 2,021 wells pumped wastewater or steam into aquifers that also contain oil, with the injections helping to squeeze more petroleum from the ground.

      California oil fields typically contain large amounts of water that must be separated from the petroleum and disposed of, usually by pumping it back underground. But oil companies can inject their “produced water” only into aquifers that have been specifically approved for wastewater storage by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

      The division has shut down 23 injection wells deemed to pose the greatest threat and has committed to closing the rest in stages over the next two years. So far, the injections have not been found to have contaminated any wells used for drinking water.

      The injections, and the division’s schedule for closing them, have prompted lawsuits, including one filed this week that named Nechodom as a defendant. That suit, filed on behalf of Central Valley farmers, alleges Nechodom, Gov. Jerry Brown and oil companies engaged in a conspiracy to circumvent the law.

      Before Brown picked him to lead the Conservation Department, Nechodom had been a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He had also served as a senior climate science policy adviser to the chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

      Until this year, however, he might have been best known as the husband of former California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who completed her term in 2014 after revealing that she was battling severe depression that left her unable to work on many days.

       

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        Errors made: Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean California Aquifers

        Repost from NBC Bay Area
        [Editor: Shocking coverage.  Apologies for the video’s commercial ad.  – RS]

        Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers

        California Dept. of Conservation Deputy Director admits that errors were made
        By Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Mark Villarreal and Scott Pham, 11/14/2014

        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.

        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.

        This well is one of nine that were known to be injecting waste water into “non-exempt” aquifers. It’s located just east of Bakersfield.

        State records show waste water from several sources, including from the oil and gas industry, has gone into the aquifer below where 60 different water supply wells are located within a one mile radius.

        “That’s a huge concern and communities who rely on water supply wells near these injection wells have a lot of reason to be concerned that they’re finding high levels of arsenic and thallium and other chemicals nearby where these injection wells have been allowed to operate,” said Kretzmann.

        “It is a clear worry,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer for the Center on Race, Poverty and The Environment. “We’re in a drought. The worst drought we’ve seen in decades. Probably the worst in the history of agriculture in California.”

        “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well,” said Flores. “The people are worried. They’re scared.”

        The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”

        However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.

        Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.

        Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.

        “We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.

        Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.

        “But when those (further) test results come back, we’ll know for sure,” Marshall said.

        When asked how this could happen in the first place, Marshall said that the long history of these wells makes it difficult to know exactly what the thinking was.

        “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,” said Marshall. “And it’s unfortunate but in some cases they (the permitting engineers) are deceased.”

        Kern County’s Water Board referred the Investigative Unit to the state for comment.

        California State officials assured the EPA in its letter that the owners of the wells where chemicals were found have been warned and could ask for further testing of their drinking wells.

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