Tag Archives: Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR)

California: Aquifer oil waste dumping to cease

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Aquifer oil waste dumping to cease

State plan gives firms until Oct. 15 to stop injecting tainted water

By David R. Baker, Feb 10, 2015
Pumps operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in January. Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Oil companies in California must stop injecting wastewater from their operations into potentially drinkable aquifers by Oct. 15, according to a plan by state regulators who allowed it to happen for years.

In a proposal submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, regulators promised to painstakingly review wells at risk of contamination, ensuring the injections did not taint aquifers already used for drinking water or irrigation in the drought-plagued Central Valley.

The plan — from California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — comes in response to revelations that, for decades, the division granted oil companies permits to inject leftover water from their operations into aquifers that the federal government wanted protected. Now, with California heading into a fourth year of drought, that water may be difficult for humans to use.

A Chronicle analysis found that the state allowed oil companies to drill 171 wastewater injection wells into aquifers that could have been tapped for crops or people. Of those wells, 140 are still in use, according to the division. Injection into those wells must stop by mid-October unless specifically approved by the EPA, according to the plan.

A shuttered injection well next to a Palla Farms almond orchard sits empty in January. Palla Farms filed a suit blaming several oil companies for contaminating the local groundwater and killing trees. Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

February deadline  

An additional 253 wells breached lower-quality aquifers still considered off-limits by the EPA, from which water could have been used with more extensive treatment. Oil companies must cease using   these wells by Feb. 15, 2017, barring an exemption from the EPA.

The EPA, which helped uncover the practice in 2011, had given the division until Feb. 6 to submit plans for fixing the problem. The EPA has threatened to seize control of regulating the oil industry’s underground injection wells in California if the state doesn’t do a better job protecting groundwater supplies from contamination. (Although the division’s plan is dated Feb. 6, it was released to the public on Monday.)

“Our goal is to make sure the state is up to the job,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA, in an interview before the division submitted its plans. “Frankly, if it got to the level where we needed to take (control) back, we would. That’s never been off the table. But I think we’re fairly far from needing to do that.”

The time frame for reform has already drawn fire from environmentalists. But both state and federal regulators say the oil industry will need time   to comply. If the division is forced to shut down some wells to protect drinking water supplies, the oil companies will have time to find other ways to deal with the waste.

“This is a problem that we worked ourselves into over 30 years, and it’s not a problem that can be solved in a year,” said the division’s new supervisor, Steven Bohlen, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

Problem’s roots  

The problem dates to 1983, when the EPA gave the division authority to enforce the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in California’s oil fields.

The state’s oil reservoirs typically contain large amounts of briny water mixed with the crude. Companies must separate the oil from the water and get rid of the water, which is usually too laden with minerals and hydrocarbons to be used for drinking and irrigation. In addition, oil-extraction techniques such as hydraulic fracturing use freshwater that becomes tainted in the process and needs disposal   .

Companies inject much of the leftover water back into oil reservoirs. But some of it is pumped into salty underground aquifers that have no oil.

The 1983 agreement listed by name aquifers that the oil industry would be able to use with a simple permit from the division. But in a bizarre snafu, there were two signed versions of the agreement, one of which listed 11 aquifers not found on the other.

The division started issuing permits for injection wells drilled into those aquifers, even though they didn’t previously contain oil and weren’t viewed by the EPA as suitable for wastewater disposal. Under the agreement, the EPA has final say on which aquifers the oil industry can and can’t use.

The state even authorized oil companies to inject into a handful of aquifers already in use for drinking and irrigation, leading to the emergency closure of eight injection wells last year. Officials have now tested nine nearby drinking wells for contamination and   found none. But aquifers tainted with chemicals are difficult and expensive to clean, and state water regulators say they can’t be certain that contamination won’t eventually turn up in those drinking water supplies.

Onus on oil firms  

In the future, oil companies will need to build a case for why specific aquifers should be considered suitable for wastewater disposal, according to the division’s proposal. The companies will submit their data to the division and the State Water Resources Control Board for review. If those two state agencies agree, they will — together — ask the EPA to allow injections into those aquifers.

As for the 11 aquifers compromised by the 1983 bureaucratic mix-up, injections there will be phased out by mid-February 2017, unless the EPA decides to let them continue.

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    Are Regulators Ignoring California’s New Fracking Law, SB4?

    Repost from NBC Bay Area, Investigative Unit

    Are Regulators Ignoring California’s New Fracking Law?

    An analysis of oil wells fracked and reported by industry since the beginning of the year shows dozens of those wells are not showing up on the State’s website, as required by new state law.
    Wednesday, May 28, 2014  |  By Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Scott Pham and Mark Villarreal

    As many as 77 different oil wells that the gas and oil industry reported were fracked in January and February had yet to show up on the website run by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by May 20, 2014. Stephen Stock reports in a video that aired on May 27, 2014.

    As many as 77 different oil wells that the gas and oil industry reported were fracked in January and February had yet to show up on the website run by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by May 20, 2014.

    That apparently flies in the face of a new law, titled [Senate Bill Four] or SB4, which requires the state to notify residents within 60 days of any well stimulation. SB4 also was supposed to require that oil and gas companies notify neighbors about upcoming well stimulation activities.

    Well stimulation includes things such as hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), the use of gravel or hydrochloric acid, or other acids to stimulate well production.

    Governor Brown signed the bill into law last September [pdf] and it took effect January 1, 2014.

    Environmental Group, The Center For Biological Diversity analyzed publicly available fracking records. NBC Bay Area verified the analysis and found a total of 116 oil wells that have been fracked and voluntarily reported on the industry’s own website, Frac Focus.

    Those fracking operations took place in January and February of 2014, after the new law took effect and long past the 60-day notification period.

    As of May 20, 2014, 77 of those 116 wells had not yet been posted on the State of California’s website run by DOGGR.

    The Center for Biological Diversity and NBC Bay Area also independently verified 62 separate wells where local air quality management records show hydrochloric acid was used. Those 62 wells don’t show up on the DOGGR website either, as of May 20, 2014.

    That hydrocholoric acid data comes from the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California (SCAQMD).

    The new state law only requires that DOGGR post the use of hydrochloric acid on wells when the technique is used to stimulate well production.

    State officials deny DOGGR is dragging its feet in implementing the new law, even though there are a number of wells that should have been listed on the state’s website before May 20th of this year.

    “We’re hitting all of our marks,” said Jason Marshall, Chief Deputy Director of California’s Department of Conservation, which oversees DOGGR and the implementation of SB4.

    “The requirements of SB4 is for the operators [oil and gas companies] to report to Frac Focus within 60 days after completing the stimulation job, the fracking, or other forms of stimulation,” said Marshall. “Then there’s an additional 15 days after that for it to show up on our site.”

    “We are working diligently,” Marshall told NBC Bay Area. “As the operators are reporting the stuff on Frac Focus, we’re working diligently with them to get that additional information, so then that we can link that up so we can post it on our site.

    Marshall also said that the reporting requirements for activities such as the use of hydrochloric acid are different between DOGGR and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

    “There’s actually a difference of reporting requirements down in the South Coast Air district, and from that versus what’s in Senate Bill Four (SB4),” Marshall said, “And there have been a number of operations that are not reportable under Senate Bill 4, but are under the South Coast rule and we’ve been working with South Coast so we have a little bit better continuity. We hope to remove the confusion for the public on well, how come it’s reported here but not there.”

    Marhsall admitted that “some” the department’s reporting may confuse an already confused public. “But we can only control what we’re handed, in terms of implementation of SB4,” he said.

    Hollin Kretzmann with the Center for Biological Diversity said all this is a smokescreen. Kretzmann, an attorney, who originally analyzed the fracking and well stimulation data, said the state simply isn’t following the new law.

    The bottom line is these legislations aren’t working,” said Kretzmann. “They aren’t keeping communities safe from the dangers of fracking.”

    That’s why Kretzmann says The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, citing these discrepancies as reason to call for an immediate halt to fracking throughout California.

    “Basically, fracking communities across California are being kept in the dark about what’s happening in their communities,” said Kretzmann. “Fracking is a dangerous practice and to not know where it’s happening or how frequently is a huge concern to not just me but to all Californians.”

    Living Next Door to a Drilling Operation

    At first glance St Andrews Gardens Apartments in Los Angeles appears like any other neighborhood in California.

    But beyond the cinderblock wall and behind a stretched tarp next to the parking lot, St Andrews Gardens’ resident Don Martin only recently discovered that an oil drilling operation was using hydrochloric acid to treat the well behind a wall.

    “The only barrier between this particular site and our apartment units is this wall,” Martin said. “It angers me because first of all, we weren’t informed there were chemicals at this particular location. Absolutely, we have a right to know what’s going on in our back yard behind that tarp.”

    “SB4 is still a new law, it doesn’t happen overnight,” said State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, who co-sponsored SB4.

    Even so, Senator Leno is concerned about what NBC Bay Area and The Center for Biological Diversity found in the analysis of the data.

    He says that’s why he is now calling for a halt to all well stimulation including fracking until the issue can be studied further.

    “I’m concerned and it only reinforces why we should consider a moratorium while we gather the information that’s required in SB4,” Leno told NBC Bay Area.

    When asked if the point of SB4 was to inform, educate and clear up public confusion, Jason Marshall of California’s Department of Conservation agreed but said DOGGR is complying with the law as it is currently written.

    “It absolutely is the point,” said Marshall. “One of the central points of SB4 is to increase public transparency. But again, we can’t impose more reporting requirements on operators.”

    Los Angeles resident Don Martin says he just wants himself and his neighbors living next to the well to be informed.

    “It started to be a concern to our health and safety,” said Martin. “In order to protect the residents here, it [SB4] absolutely needs to be enforced. And that’s part of the problem is the lack of enforcement.”

    The Department of Conservation’s Jason Marshall does admit the law could and should be tweaked to help clear up confusion and San Francisco State Senator Leno says he will work to make that happen.

     

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