Lawsuit Seeks To Keep Oil And Gas Drilling Out Of Protected California Aquifer

A shut-down injection well sit next to an almond orchard in Bakersfield, Calif. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAE C. HONG

An environmental group is trying to stop a plan to expand drilling for oil and gas in protected California aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday against California regulators, alleging they failed to properly consider the risks of injecting wastewater into an aquifer near San Luis Obispo, in Southern California.

“It’s shocking that Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil regulators are supporting the oil industry’s efforts to get federal permission to dump waste into California’s protected aquifers,” attorney Maya Golden-Krasner said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

The underground aquifer — and dozens like it — are protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and the EPA must issue exemptions in order to bring the drilling into compliance. Last year, an investigation found that the state had improperly approved hundreds of drilling and wastewater injection permits.

After the investigation, the state issued an “emergency rulemaking action,” allowing the wastewater injections to continue until 2017. The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity have also sued to invalidate that action and stop wastewater injections.

But in February, the state filed the first application for exemption, at the San Luis Obispo site. So far, the EPA has not responded to the application.

Golden-Krasner highlighted California’s ongoing drought and the importance of preserving the state’s freshwater resources. “California officials must put our thirsty state’s water needs ahead of oil company profits,” she said.

There are more than 100 wells, providing drinking water and water for irrigation, within a mile of the aquifer.

California officials have said the aquifer’s water is blocked from surface water by an “impermeable barrier,” but they admit that injecting high volumes of water for oil extraction — and then re-injecting it as wastewater — is disruptive.

“Oil regulators are disturbingly determined to turn this aquifer into an oil industry waste dump, but they can’t just shrug off California’s environmental laws,” Golden-Krasner said.

Stanford researchers recently found that a third of California’s deep groundwater aquifers are being used in oil and gas extraction.