California officials have issued an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers. Because California continues to suffer from serious drought, more than 100 sites in the Central Valley will be later examined by the state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources for possible shut-down
The status of the aquifers is being examined because the waste disposal of the injection sites poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources. Also the aquifers could provide much needed source of drinking water, as a recent report showed that water consumption in California has risen during the worst drought in nearly four decades. The state has failed to achieve the 20% reduction in water use sought by Governor Jerry Brown. The effects of the drought combined with the increasing population and rising temperatures in the region have resulted in shriveling reservoirs.
Previously, more than 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality or too deep underground to easily access. The state then exempted these aquifers from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to use them for fracking waste. However, the cease and desist orders issued by the state show that at least seven injection wells are likely to be pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law instead of other aquifers previously approved by the state.
A nationwide ProPublica investigation found that injection wells are often poorly regulated and many are likely to be polluting underground water supplies, even those protected by federal law. The investigation also disclosed an EPA program that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from pollution protection, many of them in California. Officials claim that these water wells in question may have been injected with fracking fluid, which is a toxic and sometimes radioactive liquid that comes up during oil production. Officials hope the aquifers that have been shut down are suitable for drinking and irrigation, a desperate need for California in the midst of the drought.