Vulnerability of Groundwater Resources Underlying Unlined Produced Water Ponds in the Tulare Basin of the San Joaquin Valley, California by Dominic C. DiGiulio, Robert J. Rossi, Jessie M. Jaeger, Seth B. C. Shonkoff, and Joseph N. Ryan, Oct 15, 2021, Environ. Sci. Technol. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c02056 © 2021 American Chemical Society
The San Joaquin Valley (SJV) in California is one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world relying in part on groundwater for irrigation and for domestic or municipal water supply for nearly 4 million residents. One area of growing concern in the SJV is potential impact to groundwater resources from ongoing and historical disposal of oilfield-produced water into unlined produced water ponds (PWPs). In this investigation, we utilized available information on composition of produced water disposed into unlined PWPs and levels of total dissolved solids in underlying groundwater to demonstrate that this disposal practice, both past and present, poses risks to groundwater resources, especially in the Tulare Basin in the southern SJV. Groundwater monitoring at unlined PWP facilities is relatively sparse, but where monitoring has occurred, impact to aquifers used for public and agricultural water supply has been observed and has proven to be too expensive to actively remediate. Results of this investigation should inform policy discussions in California and other locations where disposal of produced water into unlined impoundments occurs, especially at locations that overlie groundwater resources. …
The Supporting Information is available free of charge at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c02056.
- Expanded discussion on hydrogeology of the Tulare Basin and California, statewide and regional policies influencing the protection of groundwater resources, and additional supporting tables and figures (PDF)
- Ponds list (XLSX)
Study: Toxic fracking waste is leaking into California groundwater, The research leaves little doubt: California is facing massive groundwater contamination by Naveena Sadasivam, Oct 26, 2021, Grist
Chevron has long dominated oil production in Lost Hills, a massive fossil fuel reserve in Central California that was accidentally discovered by water drillers more than a century ago. The company routinely pumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of water mixed with a special concoction of chemicals into the ground at high pressure to shake up shale deposits and release oil and gas. The process — called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — produces thousands of barrels of oil every day. But it also leaves the company saddled with millions of gallons of wastewater laced with toxic chemicals, salts, and heavy metals.
Between the late 1950s and 2008, Chevron disposed much of the slurry produced in Lost Hills in eight cavernous impoundments at its Section 29 facility. Euphemistically called “ponds,” the impoundments have a combined surface area of 26 acres and do not have synthetic liners to prevent leaking. Liners leak, badly. They rip and tear and don’t last long. That meant that over time, salts and chemicals in the wastewater could leak into the ground and nearby water sources like the California Aqueduct, a network of canals that delivers water to farms in the Central Valley and cities like Los Angeles.
And that’s exactly what happened, according to new research published in the academic journal Environmental Science & Technology this month. Carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and toluene Toluene damages the brain, notably in children. It was found by the regulator and Encana/Ovintiv in Rosebud Alberta well water after the company illegally frac’d the aquifers there, benzene was found too. as well as other hydrocarbons have been detected within a half a kilometer of the facility. About 1.7 kilometers northwest of the facility, chloride and salt levels are more than six times and four times greater than background levels, respectively. The research leaves little doubt: The contaminants are migrating toward the aqueduct.
“Clearly, there’s impact to groundwater resources there,” said Dominic DiGiulio, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. “At the section 29 facility, you have to go 1.8 kilometers away from the facility to find background water quality. That’s pretty far.”
The facility shuttered in 2008, and it no longer accepts wastewater. Chevron has continued to monitor the contaminant plume and submits yearly water quality reports to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a local groundwater quality regulator. In a 2019 report, the company claimed it would cost more $800,000 to monitor the plume and report to the regulator for the next 30 years. In response to their crimes at Rosebud, Encana/Ovintiv did little but lie and bribe, and bully, shame and blame the harmed, and sneakily commingled the shit out of the wells that illegally frac’d our aquifers, and hundreds of others frac’d in fresh water zones around the community – to prevent appropriate data collection. Encana failed to heed the court’s 2014 order to provide all relevant records to me in response to my lawsuit. There are Encana data I am owed that I know I will never see.
Jonathan Harshman, a spokesperson for Chevron, said the company was reviewing the study and that it “has complied and will continue to comply with” the Central Valley Water Board’s requirements for maintaining and monitoring leaks at the Section 29 facility.
The Section 29 facility isn’t an isolated case. Between 1977 and 2017, over 16 billion barrels of oilfield wastewater was disposed in unlined ponds in California. The vast majority of these are located outside of Bakersfield in the state’s Central Valley: According to DiGiulio’s research, there are at least 1,850 wastewater ponds in the San Joaquin Valley’s Tulare Basin. Of those, 85 percent are unlined and about one-fourth are active, like the Section 29 facility. However, despite not being operational, many of them may be leaking into the ground. Wells that monitor groundwater quality are few and far between, so it’s difficult to know the exact scope of the pollution. But DiGiulio warns that the ponds constitute “a potential wide-scale legacy groundwater contamination issue.”
This month’s study is the first to quantify the number of unlined pits in California and analyze their effects on groundwater. The findings bolster 2015 research by California Council on Science & Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which concluded that unlined wastewater pits posed a threat to groundwater sources and called for investigations into whether contaminants have leaked from disposal ponds. Research conducted by the United States Geological Survey for the Central Valley Water Board has also found evidence of oil and gas wastewater contaminating groundwater.
Disposal of oil and gas wastewater is a
national global problem. Companies use anywhere between 1.5 million and 16 million gallons of water to frack a single well, and they have struggled to find economical and environmentally safe ways to dispose of the toxic fluid. The vast majority of the wastewater — both in California and nationally — is injected underground into porous rock formations, but companies also recycle and reuse the water to grow crops, de-ice roads, and suppress dust. California appears to be the only state that permits operators to store the waste in unlined pits, according to DiGiulio.
Encana/Ovintiv unlined waste pits at Rosebud, Alberta (I have many more photos of these pits showing clearly that they were unlined, I don’t have the energy to upload them):
Encana just covered these and other pits up when the company finished raping our community and then ran away to the USA. Farmers grow crops on them now. Want some Benzene-Toluene Toast?
Patrick Pulupa, an executive officer with the Central Valley water board, defended the practice and noted that the wastewater ponds are only allowed in areas where the groundwater has been deemed too salty for irrigation or household use. In cases where the contamination has threatened usable water, he said, the Board has cracked down with cease-and-desist and investigative orders. “Board staff continue to look in detail at whether additional produced water discharges are a threat to usable groundwater and will continue to issue enforcement orders where appropriate,” he added.
The definition of groundwater that is “too salty” for use varies across California. Federal regulations consider water with less than 10,000 milligrams of dissolved solids per liter of water as protected for potential irrigation, industrial, and household use. As a result, companies are typically not allowed to dispose of wastewater in underground formations if it threatens groundwater that is below the 10,000 mg/L threshold — unless they secure an exemption from the state.
For unlined wastewater pits, however, that threshold has been set at 3,000 mg/L. The inconsistency allows oil and gas companies to pollute potential sources of groundwater, according to DiGiulio, and “appears to be the major driver for this continued disposal practice.”
“The fundamental problem is that the condition under which California groundwater is to be protected is not sufficiently stringent,” he said, adding that the state water board has the authority to increase the threshold to better protect groundwater near wastewater pits and should do so.
From Pulupa’s perspective, the 3,000 mg/L threshold is not dissimilar to the standard for disposal into underground formations in practice. Though federal regulations set the limit at 10,000 mg/L, companies are routinely granted exemptions And if companies don’t get what they demand, they sue and captured courts too often bend over backwards to serve industry’s demands, environment, drinking water, humans and other life be damned. if they can demonstrate that the groundwater is not expected to be used as a source of drinking water. The exemptions apply if the water has a dissolved solids concentration between 3,000 and 10,000 mg/L, and the controversial practice has allowed oil and gas companies to pump wastewater into hundreds of aquifers across the country. As a result, the “protective standards are relatively similar,” and the Central Valley Water Board is “unaware of any effort” to modify the definition of protected groundwater near wastewater pits, he said.
Refer also to:
The dirty dozen: meet America’s top climate villains, Few are household names, yet these 12 enablers and profiteers have an unimaginable sway over the fate of humanity
Illustration: Jason Goad/The Guardian
For too long, Americans were fed a false narrative that they should feel individually guilty about the climate crisis. The reality is that only a handful of powerful individuals bear the personal responsibility.
The nation’s worst polluters managed to evade accountability and scrutiny for decades as they helped the fossil fuel industry destroy our planet. The actions of these climate supervillains have affected millions of people, disproportionately hurting the vulnerable who have done the least to contribute to global emissions.
Working- and middle-class people must stop blaming themselves for the climate crisis. Instead, it’s time to band together to seek justice and hold these profiteers accountable. Only in calling out their power and culpability is it possible to reclaim the world that belongs to all of us, together.
The Woke-Washer Mike Wirth
Chairman of the board and CEO of Chevron
Mike Wirth captains Chevron, a notorious corporate polluter responsible for one of the highest total carbon emissions of any private company worldwide.
Under Wirth’s direction, Chevron has pursued several greenwashing tactics to downplay the company’s environmental impact. A coalition of environmental groups filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Chevron earlier this year saying it misled the public by claiming responsibility only for carbon emissions associated with refining and transporting oil, not the total emissions created by the product it sells.
Wirth also sits on the board of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group with a long track record of spreading climate denial and delaying legislative efforts to curb carbon emissions.
In his own words: “Let them plant trees.”
The Smooth-Talker Ted Boutrous
Partner of Gibson Dunn law firm
As Chevron’s lead attorney and the main spokesman for all the oil companies in some two dozen climate liability cases, Boutrous sets the agenda in answering to the fossil fuel industry’s decades of lies about climate change. His argument before the courts hinges on the idea that every person shares equal blame for the climate crisis, and that it’s “counterproductive” to hold the fossil fuel industry particularly responsible.
Law Students for Climate Accountability rates Gibson Dunn among the worst of the worst on its climate scorecard for having the second-highest amount of fossil fuel litigation work of all 26 firms the group evaluated.
In his own words: “Chevron is a great company and great client with a strong culture of social responsibility.”
When will frac’ers and their enablers (regulators and courts) face the International Criminal Court in The Hague, for their crimes against humanity?
Auditor General David Wilke nicely slaps AER and Alberta Environment (oil & gas industry’s lapdogs) for some Hanky Panky but who will investigate decades of the “regulators” covering-up endless crimes and public health harming pollution by oil and gas companies? And when?
Living with Encana (Ovintiv) in Pavillion, Wyoming. Sue Spencer, hydrogeologist: “There’s this veil of secrecy about everything they do. … The oil industry went nuts. ….[the oil lobby] was just like, ‘you can’t say that groundwater was impacted by the fracking industry.’”
Why did no Canadian media or blogs, other than The Tyee, report on Digiulio & Jackson’s damning new study confirming Encana frac’d & contaminated drinking water aquifers at Pavillion, Wyoming?
New peer-reviewed published paper by Digiulio & Jackson, Pavillion Wyoming aquifers contaminated by fracking: Only one industry is allowed to inject toxic chemicals into underground sources of drinking water – hydraulic fracturing
The Bie Lie Unravels: Scientists Digiulio & Jackson Slam EPA For “Walking Away” From Pavillion Frac Pollution Study in 2011 (Alberta regulators, gov’t walked from Rosebud frac pollution in 2008, never enforced Encana’s 2004 law violations), Encana’s fracking contaminated underground water reservoirs in Wyoming, finds study by former EPA scientist who led preliminary investigation. EPA never followed up “Rule of Law” when it suits them.
Christmas shit show in Wyoming: State “regulator” report, funded by Encana, says no evidence Pavillion drinking water contaminated by fracking. We could have saved Encana $1.5 Million, told the state we knew years ago they’d let Encana off with a fat, wordy (4,228 pages!!) blame nature report (just like Alberta did)
US EPA Releases Final Frac Report: Rosebud Alberta drinking water aquifers frac’d, water wells contaminated with gas. EPA’s late edits to 2015 draft frac report downplayed the risks, contradicted the evidence, called “bizarre” & “irresponsible.” Like Alberta regulator official, Steve Wallace, secretly editing “independent” drinking water contamination reports to protect illegal aquifer frac’er Encana?