Thursday, September 1, 2016

California's Future Sacrificed to Frackers

California is considering allowing oil and gas companies to inject more waste into the state's aquifers! Its really hard to understand this decision:
Abrahm Lustgarten Aug. 30, 2016. California and EPA Poised to Expand Pollution of Potential Drinking Water Reserves. ProPublica,

A little-known program under federal environment law is being used to permit oil and gas companies to inject waste into the state’s aquifers, even as the thirst for groundwater grows.

As the western United States struggles with chronic water shortages and a changing climate, scientists are warning that if vast underground stores of fresh water that California and other states rely on are not carefully conserved, they too may soon run dry....  Yet California’s natural resources agency, with the oversight and consent of the federal government, also runs a shadow program that allows many of its aquifers to be pumped full of toxic waste.

Now the state — which relied on aquifers for at least 60 percent of its total water supply over the past three years — is taking steps to expand that program, possibly sacrificing portions of dozens more groundwater reserves. In some cases, regulators are considering whether to legalize pollution already taking place at a number of sites, based on arguments that the water that will be lost was too dirty to drink or too difficult to access at an affordable price. Officials also may allow the borders of some pollution areas to be extended, jeopardizing new, previously unspoiled parts of the state’s water supply.
I strongly recommend reading the entire article.

The so-called "justice system" has played a role in encouraging this misuse of resources. Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal reported October 1, 2015 (p. A4 ):
"A federal judge in Wyoming on Wednesday blocked Interior Department rules setting stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing on public lands..."
The judge said the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management lacked the authority to issue the new standards. The article noted that another federal judge blocked a new rule that would have protected more bodies of water and wetlands.

Background on the Rise of Fracking (from my book on Crisis Communication - Ask your local library to order it here)

Hyraulic fracturing, or fracking, was exempted from the US Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in an exemption that has come to be known as the Halliburton loophole, although the loophole was modified slightly to require frackers to apply for a SDWA permit for use of diesel fuel additives.[A] In essence, frackers are not held responsible for toxic non-diesel additives that might contaminate fresh water.

Fracking uses extensive amounts of fresh water and has pitted farmers against frackers in states such as California and Texas as water supplies become limited and more costly. Fracking in California in 2014 reportedly consumed 70 million gallons of water during a record drought.[i] Fracking produces considerable toxic waste, including radioactive waste, that presents storage and contamination risks.

Over 3 billion gallons of oil industry waste water were dumped into California aquifers that supply drinking water and agricultural irrigation.[ii]

A 2012 ProPublica study investigating contamination of US aquifers found that federal officials allowed energy and mining companies to pollute aquifers in 1,500 locations, “releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation's drinking water.”[iii] ProPublica notes that EPA records indicate that portions of at least 100 aquifers are now unsuitable for drinking or irrigation because of pollution exemptions. Although the SDWA explicitly prohibits toxic injections into drinking water and mandates precautions to prevent oil and gas disposal wells from contaminating water supplies, “aquifer exemptions” are allowed under the US Underground Injection Control Program, whose mission is to protect water supplies from underground disposal of waste.

A 1981 settlement between the American Petroleum Institute and the EPA enabled the first exemption by allowing permits to be issued for contaminating aquifers not “reasonably expected” to be used for drinking water. These permits specify the quantity of waste disposable, but do not require protection of surrounding water. The permits absolve wells running through exemption areas from meeting standard pollution prevention requirements. Little monitoring of exemption areas occurs and no exemptions of surrounding water have ever been lifted to contaminate aquifers. Oil companies hold the most aquifer exemptions, with Chevron holding at least 28.

Fracking poses a wide range of ecological risks. Fracking has also been found to cause air contamination hundreds of miles from operations.[iv] Chemicals found in fracking are being found in the US food supply chain. See The Nation's expose, Fracking our Food Supply by Elizabeth Royte, Nov 28, 2012 here:

Perhaps most troubling, fracking causes earthquakes, as concluded by the US Geological Survey in a 2015 report titled, “Incorporating Induced Seismicity in the 2014 United States National Seismic Hazard Model—Results of 2014 Workshop and Sensitivity Studies” (Open-File Report 2015–1070 ).[v] Earthquakes caused by fracking could cause problems for nuclear plants in areas not designed specifically to withstand them.

If this doesn't persuade you fracking is bad news, I'm not sure what will.


A. Lauren Pagel, Lisa Sumi, Loopholes for Polluters, Earthworks, May 16, 2011. Accessed October 2, 2015. Available:

[i] Rory Carroll (2015, April 3) Exclusive: California used 70 million gallons of water in fracking in 2014 (2015, April 3). Reuters,

[ii] “Documents Reveal Billions of Gallons of Oil Industry Wastewater Illegally Injected into Central California aquifers,” Center for Biological Diversity (October 6, 2014),

[iii] Abrahm Lustgarten, “Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply,” ProPublica (December 11, 2012),

[iv] Katie Valentine, Fracking Wells Could Pollute the Air Hundreds of Miles Away
ThinkProgress May 6, 2015. Accessed May 10, 2015. Available:

[v] Mark D. Petersen, Charles S. Mueller, Morgan P. Moschetti, Susan M. Hoover, Justin L. Rubinstein, Andrea L. Llenos, Andrew J. Michael, William L. Ellsworth, Arthur F. McGarr, Austin A. Holland, and John G. Anderson, “Incorporating Induced Seismicity in the 2014 United States National Seismic Hazard Model—Results of 2014 Workshop and Sensitivity Studies (Open-File Report 2015–1070 ),” US Geological Survey, 2015. Accessed September 8, 2015. Available:


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