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Governor Brown Urged to Shut Down All Wells Injecting Into Protected Aquifers During State’s Massive Drought

Thousands of California oil wells violating Safe Drinking Water Act, documents show.

San Francisco— The Center for Biological Diversity today called on Gov. Jerry Brown to immediately shut down thousands of oil and gas wells that are illegally injecting fluids into protected California aquifers, as well as hundreds of illegally operating oil industry waste-disposal wells.

“The oil industry is contaminating California’s water supplies and violating federal law on a massive scale and it needs to end now,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “Gov. Brown has a moral and legal duty to immediately shut down every single illegal production and wastewater 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.”

Documents just released by state regulators show that thousands of “enhanced oil recovery” wells are injecting into aquifers or zones of aquifers that are protected under state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. These wells use techniques like water flooding and cyclic steam injection to produce oil.

In a Feb. 6 letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources takes responsibility for problems with the “underground injection control” program: “The Division acknowledges that in the past it has approved UIC projects in zones with aquifers lacking exemptions.”

Those revelations follows news that state officials allowed oil companies to drill hundreds of wastewater disposal wells into aquifers with water clean enough to use for drinking or irrigation. State oil regulators shut down a handful of these illegal wastewater wells last summer, but hundreds of others are still operating across the state, from Monterey County and sites near San Luis Obispo to Kern and Los Angeles counties.

In the Feb. 6 letter, state officials propose that both new and existing injection into non-exempt aquifers be “either phased out or covered by an aquifer exemption.” Under the state’s proposed plan, some illegal wells would be allowed to continue injecting into protected aquifers until 2017.

“Thousands of illegal oil wells are injecting into California aquifers that should have been protected,” Siegel said. “We don’t need a phase-out or new aquifer exemptions. We’re suffering the worst drought in recorded history. We need Gov. Brown to immediately halt the ongoing illegal activities.”