California Oil Agency Approves Dangerous Wells Near Earthquake Faults

California is overdue for a major earthquake, experts say. So why are state regulators allowing oil companies to drill injection wells dangerously close to earthquake faults?

Scientists say injections of oil wastewater can lubricate faults, triggering damaging quakes. In California a recent scientific study linked oil-waste injections to a 2005 earthquake swarm 5 miles away, on the White Wolf Fault near Bakersfield.

Yet state records show that the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has given oil companies dozens of permits since April 2015 to drill new wastewater wells or rework existing ones near faults in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Kern and other counties (see map below).

A Center for Biological Diversity review even found that Gov. Jerry Brown's administration recently approved four new injection wells about 8 miles from the San Andreas Fault. Other wells were drilled just yards from faults.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey analysis found that 7 million people in other parts of the country live in areas vulnerable to oil industry–induced earthquakes.

Here in California a 2014 analysis found that a majority of active oil wastewater-injection wells are near faults. Millions of Californians in cities like Los Angeles live where high densities of wastewater-injection wells operate near active faults. Oil-wastewater injection volumes in California more than doubled between 1995 and 2015, state records show. That huge increase was driven in part by oil companies' use of fracking and other water-intensive techniques.

Seismologists have expressed strong concerns, writing that “considering the numerous active faults in California, the seismogenic consequences of even a few induced cases can be devastating.”

That's why the Center is calling on Gov. Brown to halt this dangerous drilling and end the use of extreme techniques like fracking. The governor must rein in the oil industry's reckless wastewater injections before tragedy strikes.

The interactive map below shows where state oil officials issued permits from April 2015 to March 2016 for wastewater injection wells near faults.