Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 3, 2015

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364,

New Plan Lets Oil Industry Pollute California's Aquifers for Two More Years

Brown Administration's Emergency Regulations Allow Hundreds of Illegal Wells to Continue Dumping Toxic Oil Waste Into Protected Water

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— One day after Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use restrictions to cope with California’s devastating drought, state oil officials have released a draft plan that would allow oil companies to continue dumping toxic waste into protected underground water sources across the state for up to two years.

“This outrageous plan could permanently destroy scores of California aquifers,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re suffering the worst drought in history, but Gov. Brown’s oil officials want to let oil companies continue violating the law by dumping vast amounts of toxic waste into our precious underground water.”

The state Department of Conservation’s draft emergency “underground injection control” regulations also envision oil companies seeking “aquifer exemptions” from the federal government that would turn currently protected underground water into sacrifice zones where oil waste fluid could be legally dumped.

Oil regulators admit to wrongly issuing nearly 500 permits for oil industry waste disposal wells that violate federal and state law. Since then the state has shut down just 23 of the hundreds of illegal wells that have dumped billions of gallons of hazardous oil waste into protected aquifers from Monterey to Kern and Los Angeles counties (see interactive map).

If enacted the state’s proposed emergency regulations would be in direct violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal law protecting the quality of water in California’s aquifers. Every day these wastewater wells continue to operate, tens of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater are being dumped illegally into protected aquifers.

The draft emergency regulations focus on a perceived need to protect the oil industry’s “long-range business plans,” but California law actually defines an emergency as “serious harm to the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare.” 

Cancer-causing chemicals like benzene occur in high concentrations in both produced water that surfaces during oil production and flowback fluid from fracking — and both are typically pumped into disposal wells. Up to half of all California oil and gas wells are fracked, according to the California Council on Science and Technology.

“The real emergency is that Gov. Brown is allowing ongoing injection of toxic oil waste into legally protected water sources,” Kretzmann said. “The Safe Drinking Water Act protects not only the water we use today but water we may need in the future. If the oil industry fouls this precious resource, it’ll be lost forever.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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