An emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites has been ordered by California officials due to concerns companies may have been pumping fracking liquids and other waste into drinking water aquifers.
California’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) distributed cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting flacking fluids into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water. The DOGGR said that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources,” GantDaily.com reported. The state has confirmed that its investigation has been expanded to look at additional wells.
The order comes at a time when central California has been enduring a lengthy drought that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone, according to GantDaily.com. The drought has forced many farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, which is where the dangers of the fracking liquid come into play.
According to GantDaily.com, at least 100 of California’s aquifers were believed to be useless for drinking and farming due to poor quality, or because the aquifers were too deep underground to easily access. Several years ago California exempted those aquifers from environmental protection, which permitted the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. However not all aquifers are exempted, which causes the system to be a mixture of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground.
According to the cease and desist orders, it looks likely that at least seven injection wells have been pumping fracking waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago, GantDaily.com reported.
“The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt,” Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation told GantDaily.com via email.
A 2012 investigation by ProPublica into more than 700,000 injection wells across the U.S. revealed wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure. This information indicated that fracking practices were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. Several of those water supplies are at the heart of this issue. The exempted aquifers were poorly defined and vaguely outlined, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in’81.
This is not the first time California has expressed concern over fracking practices. In September 2013 the California Coastal Commission raised questions about the potential impact of offshore fracking by the federal government.
The commission, which oversees part of the coast’s development, also asked both the EPA and Department of the Interior to investigate what the federal government is doing, the Wall Street Journal reported. The commission’s biggest concern is that such offshore oil-rig fracking will increase the possibility of oil spilling into the ocean.