Tomás Morales Rebecchi, Ventura County organizer for Food & Water Watch, a non-profit, speaks out via the VCStar on the matter:
This month, Gov. Jerry Brown restricted water usage to California residents, but no restrictions were placed on the oil industry and fracking that happens across the state in 532 injection wells. The wastewater produced from oil drilling, especially fracking, threatens our groundwater safety and public health.
There are at least 19 illegal oil waste injection wells that we know of which operate in Ventura County alone, creating a huge threat to what little water is left in our aquifers, which are protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act and state law.
532 injection wells are being investigated by the EPA throughout California, and of those more than 20 injection wells in Kern County have been ordered by state officials to be permanently closed.
California Senate hearings uncovered that state regulators, including Department of Gas, Oil and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), have been allowing the pollution to happen. As one regulator put it, “We all fell down on the job.” Indeed.
Meanwhile, California is in its fourth year of drought, and NASA senior water cycle scientist Jay Famiglietti revealed last month that California only has one year of water left in reserves.
Fracking and other nonconventional oil drilling techniques irresponsibly use and destroy 2 million gallons of water a day in California to fracture rocks and release oil and gas sealed deep within. The wastewater that comes back up with the oil is laced with a mix of toxic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic and many of which are unknown.
A Los Angeles Times analysis of the wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing in California showed that on average the wastewater from fracking operations contains levels of benzene about 700 times the level considered safe for human use. This fluid, which can also pull up radioactive heavy metals, is usually injected back into the ground in injection wells or left in open pits. Many times the pits are unlined and the chemicals seep right into the soil and possibly contaminate our water and crops, as we’ve seen in Kern County.
Ventura County residents are no strangers to problems with injection wells and oil field waste facilities. Anterra, a commercial injection well operator that accepts fracking and oil field waste, violated its permits by doubling the truckloads accepted, and not properly preparing for storm runoff.
Even though Anterra’s is not one of the 19 injection wells under investigation in Ventura County, the company is under investigation for how it disposes of the hazardous waste it accepts from several counties and injects into its well, located among strawberry fields east of Oxnard.
Our county’s other commercial oil field waste facility, Santa Clara Waste Water, recently renamed Green Compass (GC), is still closed after an explosion last year sent three firefighters and about 50 residents to the hospital and caused more than $4.5 million in cleanup and damages. The district attorney is still looking into the explosion and GC’s practices.
The explosion wasn’t the only strike against GC. The company treats its waste on-site several times, then discharges it into Oxnard’s sewage system. When the discharge coming from GC tested beyond the allowable levels for radioactive materials, Oxnard’s interim utilities director suspected the problem might have been coming from GC’s oil field brine. The wastewater violations, combined with the GC explosion, led the city to shut GC’s operations out of the Oxnard sewage system.
As we begin a fourth year of extreme drought, California cannot afford to waste a single drop of water. Gov. Brown and regulators need to follow in Oxnard’s footsteps and do the right things to protect the integrity of our state’s water supply and our communities’ welfare, by shutting down the 532 illegal injection wells.
Furthermore, our state officials can’t even safely handle the current volume of wastewater produced by oil exploration. To protect our precious water and aquifers for generations to come, Gov. Brown must issue an emergency moratorium on fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques. We can’t afford the waste and we can’t afford the risks.
Tomás Morales Rebecchi, of Port Hueneme, is Ventura County organizer for Food & Water Watch, an independent nonprofit organization.