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Improper Disposal of Oil and Gas Wastewater

Posted by Erin Steva, Brownfields Policy Analyst on March 9th, 2015
Photo credit flickr user haymarketrebel (CC BY 2.0)

An investigation prompted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has uncovered over 2,500 wells potentially improperly permitted to allow the injection of oil and gas wastewater into protected underground water sources in California. Forty-six percent of those wells were permitted or began injection in just the last four years. State regulators ordered 12 wells be shut down earlier this month in addition to 11 wells shut down late last year.

Though the state has not yet found evidence of damage to drinking water supplies, wells injecting wastewater into underground water supplies may present a water quality threat; a separate analysis of some oil and gas wastewater found high levels of dangerous compounds like benzene and chromium (cancer-causing agents). The regulating agency, the Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), recently outlined how it will investigate the issue further and revamp rules regulating the way aquifers are protected from oil and gas activities. Although most wells are in the Central Valley, 8 wells may be in the district containing Los Angeles County. A list of wells under investigation is available here. DOGGR is prioritizing reviewing 140 wells that are actively injecting wastewater into aquifers with good water quality.

For more information, please contact Community Health Councils’ Policy Analyst, Erin Steva at erin@chc-inc.org.

Posted in 2015