Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 21, 2015

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

San Luis Obispo Residents to Protest Oil Industry Aquifer Exemption Hearing

Company Seeks to Continue Dumping Oil Waste Into Underground Water,
Plans to Drill Hundreds of New Oil Wells

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.— San Luis Obispo County residents and members of the Center for Biological Diversity will protest today outside a state-run “aquifer exemption” hearing aimed at helping an oil company get federal permission to dump oil waste fluid into the county’s underground water. There are at least 100 water-supply wells within a mile of this oilfield.

The protest starts at 3 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriot, 1605 Calle Joaquin Road, San Luis Obispo. The hearing starts at 4 p.m.

“It’s disturbing state officials are even considering this outrageous proposal to let the oil industry use this aquifer as a trash dump for oil waste,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a Center attorney. “During the worst drought in California history, we have to protect every drop of water from pollution. Allowing oil companies to operate dangerous injection wells in this area puts San Luis Obispo’s water supplies at grave risk.”

The protest targets a Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources hearing on Freeport McMoRan’s application for an aquifer exemption in the Arroyo Grande oilfield, north of Pismo Beach. Subject to approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the proposed aquifer exemption would allow injection wells to operate in the area, either for oil recovery or oil wastewater disposal.

This is the first attempt by the oil industry to seek an aquifer exemption following revelations earlier this year that California regulators have been allowing oil companies to dump toxic waste into scores of protected underground water supplies across California (interactive map), in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

A Center analysis has identified serious flaws in Freeport McMoRan’s application:

  • The aquifer exemption application completely fails to mention the company’s plans to dramatically expand operations in the Arroyo Grande oilfield. Freeport hopes to drill up to 350 new wells (including injection wells) to achieve up to a 10-fold increase in daily oil production.
  • The application does not include any analysis about what will happen to the aquifer if that expansion proceeds — including possible changes in pressures underground and the potential for inducing fractures that could transport pollution to other water sources.
  • The application fails to evaluate the impacts of earthquakes (including those that could be caused by wastewater injection).
  • The application does not map exactly where nearby water wells are in relation to the proposed exempted area.

Oil-industry wastewater can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. State oil officials’ own study of oil wastewater around the state has detected benzene levels at thousands of times the federal limits.

“Drilling hundreds of new wells in the Arroyo Grande oilfield will dramatically raise the risk of polluting water supplies but those expansion plans aren’t even mentioned in Freeport’s aquifer exemption application,” Golden-Krasner said. “State officials need to consider those risks and stop this dangerous process in its tracks.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. 

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