Groundwater Contamination is Very Likely
Leaks and Migrations are Known Problems with Injection Wells
E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. is Facing a Lawsuit Regarding Contaminated Groundwater from E&B’s Wastewater Disposal Injection Wells
By Brenna Norton
On Tuesday, voters in Hermosa Beach must decide on Measure O, which, if approved, would overturn an existing oil-drilling ban in that city. Residents, including all five members of the City Council, are coming out overwhelmingly against the measure, a position more than justified by the air pollution and quality- of-life issues that would come with 30 new oil and gas wells, large storage tanks and miles of underground pipelines.
But the less-publicized reason to vote no on Measure O is the threat to our water: If Measure O passes, four new injection wells designed to hold toxic wastewater would be built and pass through major aquifers that supply water for 11 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
If voters approve Measure O, the city will be obliged to approve an oil project (proposed by Bakersfield- based E&B Natural Resources Management Corp.) in Hermosa that is located along the westerly edge of the West Coast Groundwater Basin. Three major fresh water aquifers comprise the West Coast Basin: the 200foot sand (Gage Aquifer), the Silverado Aquifer, and the Lower San Pedro/Pico Aquifer. The West Coast Groundwater Basin produces roughly 52,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply the annual needs of more than 200,000 Southern Californians.
The first threat is salt: Oildrilling wastewater can be extremely high in saline; if the injection wells leak or migrate from the injection point or within the formation to potable groundwater, it could destroy local groundwater quality. That threat to our precious groundwater is serious enough, but it’s not the only reason for alarm.
Records show that toxic chemicals are used routinely in oildrilling operations in Los Angeles and Orange County. In the first year after the South Coast Air Quality Management District began requiring the oil and gas industry to report its use of chemicals in certain operations in the South Coast Basin, oil companies used 44 different air-toxic chemicals more than 5,000 times. Oil companies also claimed trade secret protection 5,050 times to conceal information on air-toxics and other chemicals used.
Furthermore, as reported in the L.A. Times, wastewater from California oil wells commonly contains dangerous levels of cancer- causing chemicals. Benzene levels over 1,500 times the federal limits for drinking water were found in fracking and well-stimulation flowback fluid. Benzene in excess of federal limits was found in 320 tests, and chromium-6 was detected 118 times. And even though E&B has agreed not to use fracking, nothing prohibits the use of other chemical-laden well-stimulation techniques.
Groundwater contamination is very likely. Leaks and migrations are known problems with injection wells. In-fact, E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. is facing a lawsuit by a farmer in Kern County claiming that E&B (and four other oil companies) contaminated groundwater from E&B’s wastewater disposal injection wells caused his crops to fail. And in 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency audit found California injection well operations overseen by the Division of Gas & Geothermal Resource (DOGGR) were not up to federal groundwater protection standards. The report cited concerns about inadequate staff to oversee regulations, training of inspectors, the frequency of inspections and unclear directions about locations of clean water sources.
So, don’t count on state regulators to keep our water safe. Just this month, it was revealed that under DOGGR’s watch, hundreds of injection wells were illegally dumping oil industry wastewater into California aquifers, including some that supply water for drinking and farming irrigation.
Hermosa Beach residents have the opportunity to protect our water by voting no on O Tuesday. Those of us who rely on usable groundwater in Southern California hope they do. Brenna Norton is the Southern California organizer for Food & Water Watch.