In October, 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity obtained a copy of a letter from the California State Water Resources Board which disclosed that nearly 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater had been illegally injected into California aquifers. Now it has come to light that the problem is worse than originally reported.
Last July, California regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells due to concerns that the wastewater may have contaminated drinking water and water used to irrigate the state’s central valley farming region. Subsequent to the shutdown, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days. The report found that at least 9 of those 11 sites were dumping water contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers that are protected by both state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The letter reveals that half of the samples collected and tested from the 8 water supply wells located near the injection sites were found to contain high levels of dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, and thallium, a toxin found in rat poison.
Now it has been revealed that California regulators with the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) have permitted nearly 2,500 wastewater injection wells to dump toxic fracking chemicals into aquifers that are protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Of those wells, more than 2,000 are active, with 490 used for injecting wastewater and 1,987 used for disposal of the fluids and steam used in the fracking process. This is a clear violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
California is the third highest oil-producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota. To put it in perspective, for every barrel of oil produced, 10 barrels of wastewater requires disposal. With production running about 575,000 gallons of oil per day, that means there are nearly 6 million barrels of wastewater produced on a daily basis.
In the midst of a historic drought, the destruction of potable water resources is appalling. Water contaminated with fracking fluids is rendered useless for drinking and irrigation. Industry apologists like to point out that it can be recycled for use in fracking operations, but that is of little comfort when one considers how water intensive “enhanced oil recovery” is. The fact that the regulatory agency charged with ensuring that the water supply is safe bows instead to the oil industry and ignores the health risks posed to residents in the affected areas is beyond appalling. One could say that it is criminal.
Timothy Krantz is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. He warns that the chemicals in the aquifers could pose a serious risk to public health. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”
It is a common thing to see ads on television with an attractive young woman extolling the virtues and safety of hydraulic fracturing in the state of California and the wonderful benefits to be derived from the “clean” energy it provides. First, the energy, while cleaner than, say tar sands, isn’t clean, and one could say that the waste from the extraction process is just as filthy, only in a different way. Second, there is nothing safe about injecting toxic chemicals into the water supply meant for human consumption and crop irrigation. Third, and not ever addressed in the report, is the known fact that hydraulic fracturing can precipitate an earthquake. The injection wells in question run through the middle of the state. So does the San Andreas fault.
There have been calls for Governor Jerry Brown to halt fracking in California. I have been among those who attended a demonstration against fracking at the state capital in Sacramento last year. I couldn’t make the larger one that recently took place, but am hoping that our governor, who is usually on the right side of things but for some unknown reason is a proponent of fracking, takes note of the report and stops what can only spell disaster for a state that is already facing a historic mega-drought. We’ve got plenty of sunshine. Let’s put our resources towards solar energy, which is a proven method of providing clean, renewable energy without the toxic side effects that are the hallmark of the fossil fuel industry. Not only will solar provide a reliable and clean source of energy, it will create thousands of jobs. It will also pose no threat to our dwindling and precious water supply.