Conservationists are calling on the state of California to shut down injection wells after a scathing San Francisco Chronicle report found the state has been letting oil companies drill and dump in protected, drinkable water sources during a historic drought. According to the Chronicle’s review of state data, since 1983 California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has been allowing oil companies to dispose of produced water – leftover water from the drilling process that is contaminated with oil, brine and other chemicals – by pumping it into the earth through wastewater injection wells that reach into the state’s aquifers. Tainted water has been pumped through 171 wells in aquifers suitable for drinking and irrigation, 253 wells in saltier aquifers that could be usable with more rigorous treatment, and 40 wells in aquifers for which there is no water quality data.
Those groundwater-rich aquifers are considered protected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is giving the state until Feb. 6, 2015, to determine how it will address the problem and prevent its recurrence. State officials say they haven’t found any sign of contamination at drinking water wells also located at the aquifers, but the EPA and the State Water Resources Control Board are conducting their own investigation on whether drinking water supplies have been put at risk. Conservationists are now calling on the state to shut down the injection wells immediately and issue a moratorium on any oil and gas activities that produce toxic water.
Most of the injection wells under scrutiny are in the Central Valley, the heart of the state’s agriculture industry, where residents rely on private groundwater wells for much of their water supply. As California suffers through its fourth year of drought, those supplies have become increasingly strained, at one point leaving one Central Valley community relying on bottled water.
As surface water sources dry up in drought, groundwater from these aquifers has become an incredibly important source for the region’s farmers, who produce nearly half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. A report out of the University of California, Davis last summer found that the state’s farmers are pumping a whopping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. The researchers predicted that the farmers’ total groundwater use by the end of 2014 would be enough cover Rhode Island in 17 feet of water.
Sources: The Huffington Post
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