Category Archives: Wastewater

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[Editor: Significant quote: “The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all.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The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all.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 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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        SF Chron Editorial: Potential Crude Peril

        Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle- Editorials
        [Editor:  Here is the original 119-page California Council on Science & Technology report, (Part II).  Also of interest, Part I of the Study.  (Both are huge downloads – be patient.)  See also a somewhat critical report by Ken Broder of AllGov.   – RS]

        As new study shows, we don’t know how dangerous fracking might be

        San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2015
        Protesters against fracking rallied at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and marched for two miles to Lake Merritt Boulevard, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
        Protesters against fracking rallied at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and marched for two miles to Lake Merritt Boulevard, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle

        A long-anticipated scientific report about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, explains just how much we don’t know about the potential effects of chemicals used in the controversial oil extraction technique. The Legislature and California’s regulatory agencies need to heed the report’s warnings and insist on more data from oil companies about their activities.

        “The environmental characteristics of many chemicals remain unknown,” write the authors of the report, which was conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

        “We lack information to determine if these chemicals would present a threat to human health or the environment if released to groundwater or other environmental media.”

        The report concludes that we don’t know the risks and hazards associated with some two-thirds of the additives used in fracking, and the toxicity of more than half of the chemicals used in it.

        That’s completely unacceptable, which is why the report’s authors suggest limiting the use of chemicals with “unknown environmental profiles.”

        Considering the fact that there’s the potential for contamination (of both food and water sources) linked to fracking, the suggestion isn’t much of a stretch.

        The report also suggests the need for a stronger regulatory response to current practices. Even the researchers, for example, were surprised to learn that recycled wastewater from the oil fields is being used on crops.

        State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has authored a bill, SB248, that requires a new inspections and data recording process for well operations. Last week, Pavley said she intends to amend her bill to include some of the report’s recommendations.

        “The scientists are emphatic that state regulators must protect underground sources of drinkable water from being contaminated by fracking in shallow wells and other potentially unsafe practices,” Pavley said in a statement. We agree with that conclusion, and we urge the Legislature to take action to protect consumers and the environment.

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