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Top Fracking States Ignore Findings That Their Drinking Water Is at Risk

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Health Issues page.

Fracking Wastewater Injection Linked To Seismic Activity. The hydraulic fracturing process, or "fracking," involves pumping a mixture of fluid chemicals into the earth at a high pressure, creating horizontal fractures that release more oil or natural gas from the rock formations than from vertical drilling alone. The oil and gas industry commonly uses "deep injection wells," also known as "class II" wells, to dump untreated waste fluids after they are used. As the level of fracking production escalates, the wastewater injection process has also increased; it more than tripled from the first half to the second half of 2011, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. With the uptick in fracking comes emerging risks. Scientists have linked the process to seismic activity, specifically to a recent surge of more than 200 earthquakes in Oklahoma so far this year, some of which have been disastrous. [NPR, accessed 8/6/14; Natural Resources Defense Council, May 2012; Scientific American, 7/3/14]

This Process Poses A Threat To Drinking Water; California Already Shut Down 11 Wastewater Wells. On July 3, California officials ordered 11 oil and gas waste disposal wells to be shut down anddozensof others to be reviewed out of concern that they may be polluting California's drinking water aquifers. Further, ProPublica investigated over 700,000 wastewater injection wells in 2012 and found that they were "often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law":

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state's drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.


A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.

Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981. [ProPublica, 7/18/14]        
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