California fails to meet Feb. 15 deadline for injection wells

Environmentalists are unhappy the state of California has failed to shut down 475 injection wells used by oil and natural gas drillers to dispose of wastes as promised, Kallanish Energy reports.

The state failed to meet its own self-imposed Feb. 15 deadline, according to eco-groups.

“Governor Brown’s administration has decided not to protect our water from illegal contamination by the oil industry,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “By failing to meet their own lax deadline for shutting down these polluting wells, state oil regulators have given Californians another reason not to trust a word they say.”

Illegal injection activities were to have been halted by Feb. 15, and drillers using such injection wells faced fines of $25,000 a day for each injection wells that continues to operate in a protected aquifer.

The order to close 475 injection wells was issued last January. That was required under a federal law that requires that aquifers for drinking water be protected.

A few days after that announcement, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to say it intended to allow wastewater injection to continue at aquifers where waste disposal may be acceptable in 29 water fields with 1,650 wells.

Such aquifers might contain high concentration of minerals or are not connected to aquifers used for drinking water or farm irrigation.

The state estimated 80% of the aquifer applications under review will likely qualify as exempt aquifers and should be approved for drilling wastes by the EPA. The remaining 20%, or about 475 wells, are subject to being closed to drilling wastes, pending completion of the formal reviews that are ongoing.

The EPA concurred with that plan but asked for more details, according to a blog post on California Environmental Law.

The possible closures stem from the discovery California has permitted drilling companies to dump wastewater into aquifers for 30 years that were supposed to be protected under the Federal Drinking Water Act. Most of the wells involved are in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, the center of California’s oil industry.

The state began reviewing records in 2014 and has discovered about 2,000 injection wells that discharge into unapproved aquifers. By 2017, the state had shut down about 155 of those wells.

State officials said there is no evidence of injected wastewater contaminating drinking water or irrigation water.

California has about 52.000 injection wells that handle drilling wastes.