For Immediate Release, December 5, 2013

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 632-5316,  

Water Board Ends Waiver That Allowed Unregulated Dumping of Toxic Drilling Muds in
California's Central Valley

Board Changes Course, Agrees to Begin Regulating Harmful Oil Industry Waste

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif.— A coalition of environmental and public-health groups scored an important victory today when a regional water board voted 4-1 to kill a waiver that for years has allowed oil companies to dump toxic drilling muds in California’s Central Valley without regulation or reporting.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board initially proposed to renew the existing regulatory waiver, which allowed oil and gas well drillers to dump drilling muds without complying with requirements that apply to other types of waste discharge, such as such as pollution-control measures, monitoring and reporting. But after several advocacy groups raised concerns about the health and environmental risks of chemical-laden drilling muds, the board withdrew its proposal and decided to allow the waiver to expire.

“Oversight of these toxic drilling muds is long overdue, so we applaud the water board’s decision to begin protecting our water and our health,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The next step is for the board to study dangers linked to the oil industry’s discharging of millions of gallons of this harmful waste. People in the Central Valley deserve to know how their health is affected by this chemical-laden goop being dumped into nearby open pits.”

“Today the water board sets a good example for agencies throughout the valley by addressing one of the many dangerous public-health impacts from oil and gas drilling,” said Sofia Parino, senior attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, an organization working with environmental justice communities in California’s Central Valley. “This is a great victory for valley residents.”

Drilling muds contain numerous chemicals known to have adverse human health effects. Exposure to the chemicals in drilling muds can damage the skin, eyes and other sensory organs, liver, kidney and brains, as well as the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems. Drilling waste also contains dangerous heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc, as well as radioactive materials like radium.

The regional board agreed with the advocacy groups that it must study the chemicals used in drilling muds, and the potential for environmental damage that can result from discharge.

About 4,600 new wells were drilled in California in 2012, according to state oil and gas officials, and the majority of the state’s oil production takes place in the Central Valley. Fracking, acidization and other unconventional oil-production techniques could dramatically raise the number of new wells in the area.

The letter challenging the water board’s plan to continue a hands-off approach to toxic drilling mud was signed by the Association of Irritated Residents; the Center for Biological Diversity; the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment; the Central California Environmental Justice Network; Physicians for Social Responsibility — Los Angeles; Communities for a Better Environment; Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice; the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement Policy Project; Earthworks; and the Sierra Club.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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