Latest: California fracking companies inject protected aquifers with wastewater

EPA found that state regulators allowed 2,500 to be contaminated.

  • Clean Water Action

California oil production has slid since the mid-1980s, but one drilling byproduct has soared. In some fields, the ratio of “produced water” to oil is greater than 10 barrels to one (“Oil and water don’t mix with California agriculture,” HCN, 12/15/10). Produced “water” is actually a briny fluid often laced with contaminants including benzene, heavy metals and radiation. Most of the 130 billion gallons generated annually is pumped into underground disposal wells, or dumped into evaporation ponds. State regulation has remained spotty.

In February, the Environmental Protection Agency found that state regulators had permitted more than 2,500 wells to inject produced water into federally protected aquifers — many of which may contain water clean enough to drink. Nearly half the permits were issued in the last four years, according to the Associated Press, corresponding to increased drilling in the Monterey shale formation, which underlies much of central California. In addition to tighter injection regulation, clean water advocates want to ban the dumping of oil wastewater from hundreds of sumps and ponds.

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