“A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals. The public lands at stake encompass “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes,” a federal judge noted in 2016.” (CBD)
Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation’s geology as an invisible dumping ground. “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted. A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.” – Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington.
What the BLM says…
- (2014 ROD) (pg. XII) “There are no publicly reported instances of potable water contamination from subsurface releases in California. More than half of the stimulated oil wells in California have shallow depth (less than 2,000 feet) and shallow hydraulic fracturing poses a potential risk for groundwater if usable aquifers are nearby. Some shallow hydraulic fracturing occurs where groundwater is highly saline, or non-existent; however, investigators could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred. The State of California needs to develop an accurate understanding about the location, depth and quality of groundwater in oil- and gas-producing regions in order to evaluate the risk of well stimulation to groundwater.“
Hey, BLM! Here’s one! How old are your resources? Oil-industry pollutants were present in water-supply wells in Kern County, according to a new report released by the State Water Resources Control Board. Chemicals detected at elevated levels include arsenic, barium and boron. The report also showed a recent increase in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) near protected groundwater in California. The water board stated that pollution is “expected” given how close water wells are to oil and gas activities. It also deemed it “likely” that unlined oil-industry wastewater pits caused some of the water pollution. In 2010, contaminants from such a well bubbled up in a west Los Angeles dog park.
- (2014 ROD) (pg. XII) The toxicity of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids warrants further review now that SB 4 requires disclosure. Based on the voluntary database FracFocus, most of the chemicals used in California well stimulations are not considered to be highly toxic. However, a few of these chemicals, especially the biocides and corrosion inhibitors, are acutely toxic to mammals. No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure. Mandatory disclosure should improve our understanding, as previous data acquired from FracFocus does not consistently disclose all chemicals and may not always be complete or accurate.
Hey, BLM. Get a full disclosure before you lease and take another sample before they pour the stuff into the shafts. Make them pay for testing at a reputable lab. Check ponds that they use for produce water. Refuse to lease space to non-cooperative companies. Get accurate plans for “produce water” disposal. However, better you should get out of this business altogether.
- (2014 ROD) (pg. XIII) Some chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing may become incorporated in the water that is produced along with the oil (“produced water”). In some cases, operators dilute produced water with fresh water for use in agriculture and some produced water is pumped into unlined pits where it could seep into the groundwater. Current practice and testing requirements do not necessarily protect against adding produced water contaminated with hydraulic fracturing fluid to water used in agriculture.
Alternative A: No change from 2012 Final EIS
- Alternative B-E: See Section 4.8, Impacts Common to all Action Alternatives.
- Surface Water Use – negligible impacts due to lack of surface water in the supplemental hydraulic fracturing analysis areas.
- Groundwater Use – negligible impacts in context of regional agricultural consumption.
- Hydraulic fracturing constituent mixing and handling – Impacts to groundwater due to spills of fracturing fluids would be negligible.
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids/flowback management and disposal – groundwater impacts from loss of well integrity or out-of-zone migration of fracturing fluids from an average of zero to four wells/year would be negligible. If present trends continue, the drilling up to of 40 wells over the 10-year planning period would also have negligible impact.
We think every body knows now, with seismic risk and existing groundwater contamination, the phrase “negligible impact” should not be used here.
- Water Use.
- Drilling activities typically use approximately 4,200 gallons of water, per day.
- The hydraulic fracturing process typically uses 80,000 to over 200,000 gallons of water during the proppant phase and 2,730 to 12,600 gallons of fresh water or brine to flush excess proppants (California Department of Conservation 2015)
- Water sources for hydraulic fracturing comprise produced water (8.8%), water supply wells (groundwater, 25.4%), or surface water from public water source (65.8%) (Kern County 2015).
- Based on the assumptions listed above, approximately 400 wells per year would be hydraulically fractured in California (DOGGR 2015a, 2016, and 2018c). Most of the wells would be drilled in old producing areas in western Kern County where hydraulic fracturing maximizes recovery of oil from diatomite reservoirs. Based on the water consumption assumptions described above, the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of 400 wells would use up to an estimated 80.0 million gallons (246 acre-feet) of water per year. Hydraulic fracturing of an average of zero to four wells assumed in the Planning Area would consume 0.0 to 800,000 gallons (0.0 to 2.5 acre-feet). Over the 10-year planning period, these new wells on new leases in the Planning Area would be expected to use up to an estimated 8.0 million gallons (25 acre-feet) of water compared to an estimated 800 million gallons (2,455 acre-feet) consumed by 400 wells per year over 10 years, as assumed for all of California.
- …study estimates that California operators (pg. XII) (currently) conduct 100 to 150 well stimulations per month, which currently requires about 150 to 400 million gallons (450-1,200 acre-feet) of water per year. Even with the relatively low water use of California operations, hydraulic fracturing can contribute to local constraints on water availability given the extreme drought in the state.
Your estimates of fracking numbers and overall well numbers are undersized yet you’ve created no information or requirements for disposal.
What we say…”Produce” Water FAQ’s
- “Produced water” is CA’s 2nd largest Waste Stream: Every year the oil and gas industry in California generates billions of gallons of wastewater, also known as produced water. According to a study by the California Council on Science and Technology, in 2013, more than 3 billion barrels of produced water were extracted along with some 0.2 billion barrels of oil across the state. This wastewater is usually contaminated with a mixture of heavy metals, hydrocarbons, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and high levels of salts. Yet, contaminated wastewater from oil-field operations is exempt from the hazardous waste regulations enforced by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
- It’s legal to re-inject produced water into acquifers for disposal. Under the Underground Injection Control program, wastewater is supposed to be injected only into geologic formations that don’t contain usable groundwater. However, a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act allows oil and gas companies to apply for what’s called an aquifer exemption, which allows them to inject wastewater into aquifers that potentially hold high-quality drinking water. To learn more about aquifer exemptions, see FracTracker’s summary, here.
- Well, like pipelines, leak: Structurally, a disposal well is the same as an oil or gas well and they fail the same way – spills and leaks; well blowouts; and faulty well casings, cement, and equipment. A recent analysis estimated that between 2012 and 2013, the number of reported spills in15 major oil and gas producing states rose by 17 percent to more than 7,000. More than 7,000 wells showed signs that their walls were leaking.
- Although many of these spills were small, their combined volume totaled more than 26 million gallons of oil, hydraulic fracturing fluid, wastewater, and other chemicals and compounds used or produced during oil and gas production. Hydraulic fracturing uid and wastewater are often a toxic soup of chemicals.
- Many toxic and carcinogenic chemicals used in fracking and oil and gas extraction are water soluble and pose a great risk to the water we drink. For instance, hydrochloric acid is used to initiate rock fractures, ethylene glycol is used to prevent scale deposits in pipes, and glutaraldehyde is used to eliminate bacteria from produced water. There are also chemicals that are directly associated with fossil fuels and produced water, such as the well-studied BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene). This suite of chemicals, both from fracking fluids and fossil fuels, poses threats to virtually all systems of the body including the sensory, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive, cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems.
- Approximately 40–50 percent can affect the central nervous system and the brain, the immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys.
- 75 percent of them have been shown to affect the skin, eyes, other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
- Thirty-seven percent are known endocrine disruptors and 25 percent are linked to cancer and mutations.
- It’s really hard, if not impossible to fix a contaminated acquifer.
- “Produced water” mixes with formation brines and can be much saltier than seawater and can contain heavy metals and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM). It is brought to the surface along with oil and gas over a well’s lifespan. During “blowback” (several days following the fracturing process), between 10 and 80 percent of the hydraulic fracturing fluid returns to the surface. The handling and disposal of this wastewater has been linked to air pollution when volatile contaminates evaporate and to water contamination incidents involving local groundwater and nearby waterways.
- California is the only state with significant oil production that allows wastewater to be dumped into unlined pits, and independent scientists have called for the state to phase out this practice. The regional water boards still allow toxic wastewater discharges to continue at hundreds of wastewater pits.
- One company in Kern County has, over 6 decades, dumped more than 60 billion gallons of produce water in a system of unlined ponds. The water tests at levels for benzene, boron, toluene, and chlorides that exceed the state’s maximum contaminant levels for drinking water, sometimes by orders of magnitude. A plume of wastewater beneath the ponds, for example, has already migrated more than 2 mile underground. Oilfield products are being found in groundwater under agricultural fields from other pit systems.
- The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) – has for decades failed in its regulatory capacity. In 2015, for example, DOGGR admitted that at least 2,553 wells had been permitted to inject oil and gas waste into non-exempt aquifers – aquifers that could be used for drinking water. The EPA and the State are now actively auditing them.
- In 2013, the California Senate passed SB-4, which set a framework for regulating hydraulic fracturing in California. Part of the bill required an independent scientific study to be conducted on oil and gas well stimulation, including acid well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing. Researchers analyzed the depths of groundwater aquifers protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and found that injection and hydraulic fracturing activity was occurring within the same or neighboring geological zones as protected drinking water
- A major component of the SB-4 report covered California’s Class II injection program. Researchers analyzed the depths of groundwater aquifers protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and found that injection and hydraulic fracturing activity was occurring within the same or neighboring geological zones as protected drinking water
- The State Water Resources Control Board stated that fracking has increased in areas with protected groundwater. In 2017 oil companies submitted 12 proposed groundwater monitoring plans that, if approved, would allow fracking near valuable groundwater resources. In 2018 that number doubled to 24.
- Fracking and well stimulation are also used in the ocean off California’s coast. Oil andgas operations within three miles of the shore are regulated by the state, while operations more than three miles out are regulated by the federal government. Oil companies have fracked at least 200 wells in state and federal waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and in the wildlife-rich Santa Barbara Channel. At least 10 fracking chemicals used in offshore fracking in California could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including sea otters and fish.
- Current federal regulations allow oil companies to frack and discharge their wastewater —including toxic fracking chemicals — into the ocean. Federal regulators instituted a moratoriumon fracking in federal waters in 2016 in response to a lawsuit challenging the government’sfailure to disclose the environmental impacts of fracking. Despite the world’s leading ocean and climate scientists urging to continue the moratorium, the federal government lifted the moratorium in late 2016 after conducting a cursory environmental assessment.
- Currently, litigation brought by the State of California and environmental groups is ongoing overthe federal government’s inadequate environmental review and decision to allow offshore fracking to resume.
- Fractracker Alliance (fractracker.org)
- Deep well injection failures (propublica)
- Drilling in California: Who’s at risk? (NRDA)
- Injection wells: The poison beneath us (Propublica)