Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 22, 2016
Contact: Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121,

New Rules Won't Protect California Water From Oil Industry's Toxic Injections 

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The oil industry will still be allowed to endanger California’s water supplies with underground injections of toxic fluid under draft regulations just proposed by state oil officials. The draft rules come after the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources admitted allowing oil companies to drill more than 2,000 underground injection wells into protected aquifers across California (interactive map).

“The state’s new rules actually weaken existing law aimed at protecting California’s precious water supplies from oil industry contamination,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “California oil officials have dragged their heels for years in proposing new regulations to correct their blatant violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Now they’ve released rules that don’t fix these dangerous deficiencies and in some ways actually increase the threat oil company injections pose to our underground drinking water.” 

The new rules are part of the state’s Underground Injection Control program — the same program that failed to prevent the massive gas leak from a gas-storage well near L.A.’s Porter Ranch neighborhood.

“During the Aliso Canyon disaster, it’s been appalling to see the Brown administration trying to give the oil and gas industry another free pass to endanger our water and our safety,” Lakewood said.

The Center has identified the following major loopholes and weaknesses in the draft regulations:

  • Section 1724.10 would allow an operator to inject at pressures high enough to break up the formation rock if the operator “demonstrates conclusively” that the fluid will remained confined to the injection zone. The regulations do not state what would amount to a “conclusive” demonstration. This is an attempt to legalize ongoing steam-injection practices that state officials have admitted fracture the formation. It is a step backward because it is currently illegal to inject at pressures high enough to fracture the formation. It is also inconsistent with federal regulations that prohibit injection well operators from creating fractures in the confining zone adjacent to protected groundwater outside the stimulation phase.
  • The definition of “freshwater” is overly narrow and will leave aquifers that are protected under federal law at risk of contamination. For instance, the regulations generally require the well casing to ensure that “freshwater” zones are protected, and require oilfield waste to be disposed of in such a manner as to not cause damage to “freshwater aquifers.” The narrow proposed definition is an attempt to circumvent protections provided by federal law.
  • The “area of review” (AoR) for a steam injection well is the greater of either the calculated AoR or 300 feet. This means that the AoR may be significantly smaller than the standard quarter-mile that we understand is currently being used as the standard AoR for steam injection wells. Steam injection is inherently dangerous, and caused a fatal accident in California several years ago. Lessening the AoR is a step backward, not forward.
  • Operators would not be required to analyze injection fluid for toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are commonly used in fracking fluid. The regulations include loopholes that would allow operators to continue to hide even the information that is required if they claim it is “infeasible” to provide it.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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