Oil-Dumping into Public Drinking Water

On Monday, February 9, 2015 the issue of oil dumping in public drinking water was brought up again, this time with new findings and escalating revelations.

Not only did individuals in the state find out that a water manager in the San Francisco Bay Area had been urinating in a 647-million-gallon reservoir that supplies drinking water for the area, but they also found out that over 46 percent of water wells throughout California have been injected with oil throughout the past four years.

It was announced that after previous reports throughout the last year, that over 46 percent of oil-injection wells have been authorized to have oil disposed into the California public drinking water. This ultimately means that according to state records, 1,172 of the 2,553 injection wells had been contaminated throughout California.

“They should be sued if this is the case,” said Ryan Huck, an assistant engineer at the California State Water Resources Control Board. “Dumping contaminants into aquifers is outlawed in the CWA [The California Water Association], which is a federal law.”

According to Huck, the oil industry wants to morph the law for their benefit because it is easier and cheaper to dump waste into a close by “sink” than to continually haul the waste far away.

“It’s not a problem if you accidentally spill soda or small amounts of chemicals into a large body of water for the average person. But large scale discharge is not okay,” said Huck.

(Photo Credit: Creative Commons search)

California is the country’s third-largest oil producing state; the state produces 9%, coming in behind Texas that produces 26% and Arkansas that produces 10%.

Governor Jerry Brown has been pushing to speed up the permitting process but it has continued the past four years to be in an illegal state.

On Monday, February 10, 2015 the Center for Biological Diversity sent out a press release stating that they have asked Governor Jerry Brown to immediately shut down the oil and gas wells that have been illegally injecting the waste fluids into the protected California aquifers that contain public drinking water for communities.

“The oil industry is contaminating California’s water supplies and violating federal law on a massive scale, and that needs to end now,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center’s Climate Law Institute in the press release. “Gov. Brown has a moral and legal duty to immediately shut down every single illegal production and waste water disposal well. The size of this problem shows how big a threat the oil industry’s toxic waste is to California’s precious water supplies.”

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, also known as DWSRF, “The Nation’s water systems must make significant investments to install, upgrade, or replace infrastructure to continue to ensure the provision of safe drinking water to their 297 million customers.”

The costs will continue to rise for taxpayers if more oil dumping is found throughout the state in order to repair the damage and reduce the risk of contamination for citizens.

In the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 Edition of the Drinking Water Standards and Health Advisories it was stated that the health advisory (HA) for contaminated water of chemical substances is on a basis of three levels. Those three levels include one-day HA, ten-day HA, and lifetime HA.

One-day HA states that the concentration of a chemical in drinking water is not expected to cause any adverse non-carcinogenic effects for up to one day of exposure. This is the same amount for ten-day HA and lifetime HA.

The information is set to provide guidance to health officials, regional and state offices in order to show the level of containment in the water that would affect the human body.

“A huge amount of that money over the past few years has gone into Public Drought Emergency (PDE) funds. PDE is under proposition 84, which in total supplies one billion dollars of allotment money to water quality and drinking water projects throughout the state. Of that $500 million is going into drought,” said Huck.

Upgrades on an annual basis already range at an extensive cost for taxpayers, so this can result in a much higher cost for the future.


(Photo Credit: Creative Commons Search)

The federal government is now getting involved to insure that California citizens will be in a safe environment in order to protect their drinking water.

A letter was written to Ms. Jane Diamond, Director of Water Division Region IX in San Francisco, Calif. signed from Steve Bohlen, State Oil and Gas Supervisor and Jonathan Bishop, Chief Deputy Director.

“The protection of California’s aquifers from contamination is a matter of highest importance priority for the Division and the State Water Board, and of special importance given the state of emergency resulting from our unprecedented drought.”

The letter also stated that the focus of their attention would be towards key stakeholder groups. This group includes environmental organizations, elected officials, the press and from the press the public to consume and help with this major issue.

“The only ways for a citizen to help prevent contamination in potable water is to pay taxes or become an engineer,” said Huck.

Huck also suggests that citizens should limit biodegradables from going down garbage disposals and reduce fertilizer runoff into storm drains, which are major issues in the bay area.

Huck explained that all potable water is treated at water treatment plants from primary sources, such as rivers and reservoirs. Immediately after treatment the water gets distributed through a pipe network system to residential buildings and businesses.

“The reason why there are problems in some areas dealing with water quality is because they do not have proper infrastructure or testing equipment to treat or test for contaminants.” Said Huck.

Huck stated an example of this type of containment would be arsenic.

“That’s where engineers, regulation and the state water resources control board come into play to deal with those issues,” said Huck. “However, citizens can help prevent biochemical oxygen demand and non point source pollution when it comes to water run off in storm sewers and garbage disposals.”

In the October 6, 2014 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity it had confirmed from a public letter that nine waste water disposal wells had been contaminated with the injection fluids that were meant to be high quality water; all of them were protected under federal and state law.

In the same month it was announced that oil-rigs in Kern County were shut down due to

(Photo Credit: Creative Commons Search)

(Photo Credit: Creative Commons Search)

containment issues that found thallium and arsenic within the area.

According to the same press release, “Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness.”

In an article with The Fresno Bee, Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA stated, “We need a big course correction. We need to get the system back in compliance. Californians expect their water is not being polluted by oil producers … this poses that very real danger.”

In the same article it is explained that an orchard farm near one of the disposal wells was shut down by the state because his cherry trees had damages from the injections from the oil companies. He stated in the interview with the Fresno Bee that as farmers it broke their hearts to pull up the dead fruit trees. He was a fourth-generation farmer.

“The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.” Stated Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands in the October 6, 2014 press release.

According to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) the EPA ensures that underground injection wells do not endanger any current and future underground or surface sources of drinking water.

As of now California has until 2017 to stop the injections of oil into any aquifer that is not designated for oil-industry waste or drilling.

“The only thing I can say about it is that either they’ll have to treat the ground water even more extensively, which will cost a lot to upgrade the plant to deal with un natural contaminants in the ground or not pump water from that area.” Said Huck.

If they do not pump water for drinking water in these areas, there will be many more issues than just that as the drought has already impacted the water levels.

Governor Jerry Brown has not made a public statement recently about these new findings.


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