If Chromium 6 rings a bell you've probably seen the movie Erin Brokovich, about the woman who uncovered water contamination from Chromium 6 in the town of Hinkley, CA. That was with the local PG&E facility.
And this follows information being released regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation into oil field waste disposal injection wells and whether the State oil and gas regulators, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, allowed those wells to operate in aquifers which should have been protected from such activity - according to the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. That investigation is on going.
See the documents below for more information:
1) This is the press release dated Feb. 11 from the Center for Biological Diversity:
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY REGION IX
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 941 05-3901
December 22, 2014
Chief Deputy Director
California State Water Resources Control Board P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812-0100
Oil and Gas Supervisor
Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources California Department of Conservation
801 K Street, MS 18-05
Sacramento, CA 95814-3530
Dear Messrs. Bishop and Bohlen:
I am writing to follow up on EPA’s July 17, 2014 letter to CaIEPA and the Resources Agency regarding the State’s administration of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act Class II Oil and Gas Underground Injection Control program. In that letter, we described serious deficiencies in California’s Class II program and inconsistencies with federal UIC regulations and State Program primacy requirements. The letter also set forth comprehensive requirements and deadlines for the State to address the deficiencies and bring the program into compliance. Enclosed is a summary of the status of the State’s responses to the July 17 letter.
Our frequent dialogue and your efforts in the last six months have illuminated the breadth and complexity of the challenges and the substantial workload faced by the State agencies in overcoming the program’s deficiencies. The State’s submittals and conceptual plans presented since July are a step in the right direction. However, a more definitive overall plan of State actions and milestones is critically needed by February 6, 2015, to bring the Class II program into compliance by February 15, 2017.
This letter highlights the main areas of recent discussion and provides direction for the State’s submittal of a program revision plan by February 6, 2015. This plan should comprehensively address the results of EPA’s 2011 audit and 2012 review, and any other related reviews available to the State; assure completion of the outstanding items listed in the enclosure; provide a detailed list of planned actions based on a two-year schedule of tiered priorities, specific deliverables, interim and final milestones; and identify the resources to be deployed to accomplish this work.
Injection Well Evaluations: Priority must be given to completing and submitting the review of existing Class II wells which may be injecting into non-exempt aquifers, particularly in non-hydrocarbon producing zones, as this is the critical path for evaluating the highest potential impacts to drinking water sources. The drinking water source evaluation for these wells should then proceed expeditiously, followed by appropriate actions to address any threats to drinking water (e.g., emergency orders to cease injection, permit rescission, information orders or exercise of other authorities).
Where injection for enhanced oil recovery or waste disposal is contemplated to continue via existing wells into aquifers without approved exemptions, or into portions of aquifers that are outside the specific areas exempted, the State needs to establish a process, priorities, and a schedule to evaluate and address any potential threats from these operations, and for timely development of aquifer exemption proposals. The schedule should reflect environmental and public health priorities and provide adequate time for public participation and for EPA to finalize any needed decisions on these aquifers over the course of the next two years, and no later February 15, 2017. The State must take actions to prohibit injections after February 15, 2017 in any aquifers for which EPA has not approved an aquifer exemption.
Further, State approval of any new wells in aquifers without approved exemptions or into portions of aquifers that are outside the specific area exempted should be limited to State-approved projects in hydrocarbon producing zones, and should include considerations such as: information from drinking water well surveys and recent water quality data in the vicinity of the injection wells; use of formations with greater than 3000 ppm TDS (as we understand the State is analyzing the conditions, if any, under which continued injection into hydrocarbon producing zones with water quality of less than 3000 ppm TDS should be permitted); use of compliance orders or exercise of comparable State authorities to compel operators’ submittal of complete applications for aquifer exemptions, and to prohibit injections after February 15, 2017 in any aquifers for which EPA has not approved an aquifer exemption; availability of alternate disposal options; public review processes undertaken; and concurrence by DOC/DOGGR and State/Regional Boards. It is important to note that the State’s granting of an authorization for an injection well prior to obtaining EPA’s approval of an aquifer exemption does not guarantee EPA’s approval, which will be based on regulatory criteria.
Aquifer Exemption Process: Aquifer exemptions are an essential component of the State’s Class II well permitting program. The State must determine which aquifers to exempt, provide for public participation and submit proposed exemptions to EPA for approval. The State must support the proposed exemptions with strong technical data and robust evaluations before presenting them to the public and EPA. Given the multiple state agencies involved, explicit internal processes and procedures are needed to guide the gathering and thorough evaluation of the necessary data, and seek EPA approval regarding the specific aquifer exemptions. EPA’s Aquifer Exemption Checklist, provided previously and again as an enclosure with this letter, outlines the requirements for aquifer exemptions. We also provided several examples and met with State staff on November 3, 2014 to discuss required documentation.
Historic Aquifer Exemptions: In addition to wells known to the State to be injecting into zones that do not have aquifer exemptions, some existing wells inject into 11 aquifers which have been historically treated as exempt, though data provided by the State to EPA with its 1981 primacy application indicate that these 11 aquifers were non-hydrocarbon producing and contained water that was less than 3000 ppm TDS. Pursuant to Section 11(H) of the Underground Injection Control Program Memorandum of Agreement Between California Division of Oil and Gas and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA believes the collection and consideration of current data on the water quality of these aquifers will afford the State the opportunity to determine whether existing wells in these aquifers should continue to operate. The State’s program revision plan should outline performance of specific activities by the State and operators on a schedule that will allow EPA to finalize any needed decisions on these aquifers by December 31, 2016. No new wells should be authorized in an aquifer prior to the conclusion of this process for that aquifer.
EPA is committed to working with the State under 40 CFR 145.33 to enable the State to maintain primacy for the Class II Oil and Gas Underground Injection Control program. Given the need to resolve the program’s serious deficiencies in a timely matter, EPA has strengthened oversight and support of the program. As part of this investment, EPA is prepared to re-direct a portion of the State’s anticipated FY15 federal UIC grant allocation of approximately $550,000 to specific efforts targeted to advance the State’s Class II program toward compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. We will consult with you on work to be led by EPA with these funds.
We look forward to continuing our collective efforts towards achieving our shared commitment to protect California’s underground sources of drinking water, and anticipate receiving your program revision plan by February 6, 2015.
Director, Water Division