Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 11, 2019

Contact: Hollin Kretzmann, (510) 844-7133,

California Water Board Finds Oil-industry Contaminants in Water Wells

Fracking Near Protected Groundwater Increasing in California 

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Oil-industry pollutants were present in water-supply wells in Kern County, according to a new report released by the State Water Resources Control Board. Chemicals detected at elevated levels include arsenic, barium and boron. The report also showed a recent increase in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) near protected groundwater in California.

“Here’s more proof that California’s dirty oil production is polluting our precious groundwater,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “You’d think the water boards would take immediate action to protect our water from further contamination, but when it comes to the oil industry, they routinely look the other way.”

The report’s preliminary results were part of groundwater monitoring mandated by California Senate Bill 4 to determine the effects of fracking on groundwater. Though the report is unclear on whether the detected pollutants are from fracking operations, there were “multiple lines of geochemical evidence” showing oil-industry contaminants have co-mingled with nearby sources of protected groundwater.

The water board stated that pollution is “expected” given how close water wells are to oil and gas activities. It also deemed it “likely” that unlined oil-industry wastewater pits caused some of the water pollution. California is the only state with significant oil production that allows wastewater to be dumped into unlined pits, and independent scientists have called for the state to phase out this practice. The regional water boards still allow toxic wastewater discharges to continue at hundreds of wastewater pits.

The report also disclosed that fracking has increased in areas with protected groundwater. In 2017 oil companies submitted 12 proposed groundwater monitoring plans that, if approved, would allow fracking near valuable groundwater resources. In 2018 that number doubled to 24.

Fracking and oil-waste fluids can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. A 2015 study from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of dangerous contaminants. The study also concluded that groundwater monitoring alone is inadequate to protect water and that shallow fracking should be prohibited unless it can be proven safe.

“On top of fueling climate chaos, drilling and fracking pose a toxic threat to air and water in nearby communities,” Kretzmann said. “To lead on climate change and protect his constituents, Governor Newsom must phase out fossil fuel extraction in California.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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