California Dealing With Wastewater Contamination [Video]


California is facing exceptional drought conditions and now it looks like the Golden State could be dealing with contamination from wastewater. Around 3 billion gallons of wastewater from fracking methods may have been deposited incorrectly and caused contamination of drinking water and water used for irrigation. Most of the affected areas appear to be in the Central Valley region.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, stated billions of gallons of water may have contaminated California aquifers, according to the Center of Biological Diversity. Nine out of 11 injection sites may have been responsible for depositing such contaminants as thallium, arsenic, and nitrates. At least 19 more wastewater wells may have contaminated aquifers protected under state and federal law, while a dozen more may have injected waste directly.

The Center of Biological Diversity stated in a release dated Oct. 6 that the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources had shut down 11 wastewater well injection sites in July and stated there were hundreds of others which could be contaminating underground aquifers. The Central Valley Water Board took samples of eight water-supply wells and confirmed there were high levels of contaminants in half the samples.

Arsenic is a carcinogen while Thallium is reportedly used in rat poisoning. Timothy Krantz, professor of the University of Redlands Environmental Studies Department stated,

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.

Furthermore, the Center for Biological Diversity stated other hazardous chemicals, such as toluene and benzene may have also been deposited into wastewater injection sites which can take years to travel underground, thereby posing a long-term risk to aquifers. Therefore, California could be dealing with severe wastewater contamination.

Dan Bacher of the San Diego Free Press newspaper stated Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney associated with the Center for Biological Diversity had criticized regulators for failing to protect precious water resources. Bacher stated Kretzmann had urged California Governor Jerry Brown to stop allowing the process of fracking by oil industries in a state facing a severe drought situation which is ill-equipped to handle wastewater disposal.

Bacher also reported that the Big Oil industry appears to have the greatest influence on environmental policy in California. He stated most of the public and environmental activists are unaware of the hold the oil industry has on the governor and State Legislature. Bacher mentioned that according to reports found with the California Secretary of State, the oil industry may have spent around $63 million in lobbying of state policymakers between January 2009 to June 2014. About $27 million may have come from Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).

Some companies associated with Big Oil reportedly faced fines of around $476,000 for such violations. According to a release dated Oct.7 from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, Occidental of Elk Hills, Inc. (Oxy) and Vintage Production California LLC were both fined for dumping fluids in “unlined sumps next to Oxy and Vintage oil wells in Kern County.” The Water Board noted dumpings may have occurred between Jan. 1, 2012 to Nov. 15, 2013.

The Water Board had also released a statement on Nov. 15, 2013 which stated an investigation had started due to a Youtube video which showed probable illegal dumping of hazardous fluids. An order was originally issued under Water Code Section 13267 to Vintage Production in order to obtain a technical report of its dumping procedures.

After the Water Board prosecution team reviewed the information submitted by Vintage Production, the release stated the company was “in violation of General Waiver Resolution R5-2008-0192 and Water Code Section 13350.” A notice was served to the company and since then, other oil and gas operators have been investigated, particularly those by the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources which then shut down 11 injection sites in July of this year.

California could be dealing with severe wastewater contamination since high levels of toxic chemicals were found in half of the samples used to determine whether hazardous material seeped into protected water supply. RT reported fracking methods have previously been linked to these types of contamination, as well as an uptick in earthquakes.

By Liz Pimentel

Center for Biological Diversity
SD Free Press
CA Water Board (Oct. 7)
CA Water Board (Nov. 15, 2013)

Image Credit:
Photo of California Aqueducts provided by Ian KluftLicense