Aquifers contaminated; state agencies admit

Mar 13, 2015
By Jena Price

The shocking revelations about the failures of state regulatory agencies to protect California groundwater from pollution continued this week.

At a joint oversight hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday, March 10, titled "Is the underground injection control program working?," California state legislators grilled the agencies responsible for allowing oilfield waste and other fluids to be injected into California's protected aquifers.

"The actions of the oil and gas regulator are threatening the state's precious groundwater supply." – Calif. Senator Fran Pavley

Senators accused the agencies of failing to protect California's water supply, and they were right.

The officials admitted their failure to protect California's water supply. They acknowledged that protected aquifers had been contaminated under their watch. They recognized that their actions – permitting oil and gas companies to inject oilfield waste fluids into protected aquifers – are in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

But they did not agree to shut down the 2,000 injection wells still active in the state. In fact, they said that the agencies are preparing to issue permits for new injection wells. No kidding – they said that, and they're serious.

However, the controversial hearing produced at least one positive outcome: It caught the media's attention. Just take a look at how the Los Angeles Times summed up Tuesday's hearing:

During a testy two-hour oversight hearing, officials from the California Department of Conservation, the department's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the state Water Resources Control Board promised senators a top-down overhaul of their regulation of the disposal of oil field wastewater.

But after a handful of recent embarrassing revelations about the division's history of lackluster regulation, lawmakers questioned how they could trust agency officials to follow through, characterizing longstanding agency practices as corrupt and inept.

More California news outlets covered this hearing than any other environmental story in recent memory, and it's clear that reporters are sticking with this story. In other words, this is our best chance to leverage public pressure through the media.

We're urging voters to help build public pressure right now – while the Los Angeles Times is paying close attention to this story. Protect our water supply: Make your voice heard: >>

"We all fell down [on the job]" – Mark Nechodom, Calif. Department of Conservation

"Our regulations are old. And they haven't kept up with [oil and gas] industry practice." – Steven Bohlen, Calif. Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR)

"None of this really came to light until there were exposes in the media." – Calif. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson



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