The regulatory history of protecting clean water from injected oil waste water contamination is not a good one. In 2011 and 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found serious problems with California’s underground oil waste water injection program and the fact that over 2,500 injection wells were operating in drinking water aquifers. The EPA ordered the wells shut down and that the State implement a review and evaluation process based on the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which prohibits injections of oil wastewater into aquifers that are or may one day be used for drinking water. For decades, despite this prohibition, the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has allowed oil producers to inject oil wastewater into aquifers that are supposed to be protected. To date, DOGGR has identified more than 2,500 wells injecting into non-exempt aquifers. Even when the full scope of DOGGR’s failure to oversee these disposal wells was revealed in 2015, DOGGR issued regulations allowing oil operators to continue dumping wastewater into protected aquifers until February 2017. When the February 2017 deadline came, DOGGR announced that it would allow more than 1,650 wells to continue injecting oil waste into protected aquifers indefinitely. And then make science based recommendations on which aquifers could safely be exempted from the SDWA laws, such that no drinking water would threatened by toxic oil field waste. A deadline of February 15, 2017 was set for completion of this work. DOGGR failed to meet the deadline and just recently recommended to the EPA that an exception be granted to the Arroyo Grande oil field. DOGGR’s research to justify such a recommendation is seriously flawed and lacks any significant empirical research into the underground hydrological characteristics of the basin or protections for private drinking and irrigation wells.
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