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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. March 22, 2017— In response to a lawsuit by several oil industry trade groups, a Kern County judge temporarily halted efforts by California oil regulators to shut down hundreds of oil company injection wells dumping toxic fluid into aquifers that should be protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The wells affected by the ruling are in at least six California counties: Fresno, Kern, Monterey, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura (see map).
Yesterday’s ruling put on temporary hold a plan by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources that would have shut down those wells but allowed 1,650 other oil industry injection wells to continue violating water-protection rules.
“The public is paying a predictable price for state regulators’ slow, half-hearted attempt to protect California’s water from oil industry injection wells,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If regulators had moved quickly when this problem was discovered, this dangerous issue could have been resolved years ago. The state must protect our aquifers from oil waste dumping, and it needs to take a much more careful look at the aquifer-exemptions applications from oil companies that would permanently sanction this pollution of our underground water.”
The illegally permitted wells were brought to light in 2011, after an audit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed major problems in DOGGR’s underground injection program.
Two years ago DOGGR officials promised that all illegal oil-industry injection activities would be halted by Feb. 15, 2017. But the state backtracked on that promise in January.
Oil industry trade groups initially supported DOGGR’s plan in public statements and legal filings, only to file suit in January to halt its implementation.
“Emboldened by Trump’s election, oil companies went from praising the Brown administration’s weak efforts to close some of these wells to attacking even those small steps,” Kretzmann said. “Now, nearly all of these illegal wells are still contaminating our protected aquifers.”
Oil industry injection wells continue to dump oil waste into scores of protected underground water supplies in Monterey, Ventura, Kern and other counties (see this interactive map).
California state officials are also moving forward with plans to exempt as many as 40 of these aquifers from water-protection laws. If the “aquifer exemption” applications are approved by the EPA, the oil industry would be allowed to make permanent use of these water supplies for the disposal of contaminated waste fluid.