California Agency Floats Plan to Turn Livermore Aquifer Into Oil Waste Dump

LIVERMORE, Calif. Dec. 15, 2016— An oil company with a long history of hazardous spills in California wants state and federal permission to dispose of contaminated waste fluid into an underground water supply in Livermore.

The proposal — announced late Friday afternoon by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — seeks to exempt an aquifer in eastern Alameda County from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. State officials are now taking public comments and will hold a Jan. 11 hearing on the proposal.

E&B Natural Resources, the oil company seeking the exemption, was cited last year by Alameda County officials for improper disposal of hazardous waste and failing to immediately notify authorities about the release of hazardous material. E&B has reported at least 31 spills of oil or other hazardous materials in four different California counties in the past 10 years, according to state records.

“Turning our groundwater over to a spill-prone oil company is absurd and dangerous,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “E&B’s horrendous history of leaks and legal violations has already endangered California’s environment. Regulators in our drought-stricken state shouldn’t let this company pollute underground water around Livermore.”

A Center analysis of the Livermore exemption proposal found troubling risks and grave deficiencies. Oil-waste injections in this location would contaminate an aquifer with water many times less salty than seawater, at a time when desalination is ramping up in the state.

The application fails to prove that injected oil waste will not migrate beyond the proposed exemption boundaries. That could endanger nearby water sources: Seven domestic and two irrigation water-supply wells lie within a quarter-mile of the proposed exemption boundary.

The exemption application argues that the Greenville Fault on the aquifer’s border will help contain waste fluid injected into this zone. But Greenville is an active fault that suffered a magnitude 5.8 earthquake near Livermore in 1980.

Oil-industry wastewater injection has been implicated in earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas and California. Even minor tremors could endanger other nearby water supplies by opening up pathways to contamination.

Oil-industry wastewater can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. State oil officials’ own study detected benzene levels in oil wastewater at thousands of times the federal limits for drinking water.

Livermore is one of dozens of aquifer-exemption applications being processed by state oil regulators. This rush of applications follows the discovery of major flaws in California’s management of oil-industry injections, including the revelation last year that oil companies have been allowed to dump toxic waste into scores of protected underground water supplies across the state (interactive map), in violation of federal and state water-protection laws.

“Officials with the Brown administration are so eager to put their embarrassing errors behind them that they’re recklessly sacrificing usable water to the oil industry,” Kretzmann said. “Alameda County residents just can’t count on our error-prone oil regulators to protect their water supplies.”

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