The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has initiated legal action under California’s Proposition to prevent the disposal of waste water used in fracking operations.
The non-profit citizen enforcement group served a notice of violation against Seneca Resources Corp., which allegedly disposed of “highly toxic fracking waste water” into four wells near Lost Hills in Kern County that flow into a potential source of drinking water. According to CEH state documents show that the Seneca waste water contains high levels of naphthalene, benzene and ethylbenzene – all substances listed by the state as known to cause cancer and/or reproductive harm – far in excess of Prop 65 safety standards.
CEH notes that some of the waste water injected into a potential source of drinking water by Seneca contains more than 2,000 times more benzene than allowed under the Proposition 65 Safe Harbor level.
Proposition 65, which was initially a safe drinking water statute that regulates the discharge of toxic chemicals into a source or potential sources of drinking water has in recent years been focused on exposures to listed chemicals in consumer products. However, discharge cases are filed occasionally—and the stakes tend to be high.
CEH called for Seneca to “cease their polluting practices.” “Toxic waste water from fracking must not be allowed to contaminate our precious drinking water supplies,” said Michael Green, executive director of CEH.
“While millions of Californians are responsibly meeting the state’s water-conserving rules, state regulators are recklessly allowing the oil and gas industry to continue polluting our water. Our action today sends a strong message that we will not stand by while the fracking industry puts our dwindling water resources at risk,” CEH said in a press release.
Seneca is the exploration and development subsidiary of the National Fuel Gas Company, (NFG) a company with annual revenues of nearly $2 billion. In Pennsylvania last year, NFG was fined $250,000 for environmental violations at the company’s drilling sites. In 2013, Seneca was fined $377,000 by Pennsylvania regulators, more than any drilling company but one, for 59 violations over 3 years.
According to California state documents, at least two Seneca fracking wells produced large amounts of toxic waste water that the company disposes of in four injection wells at their Tisdale Disposal Facility in Kern County. State records indicate that the levels of the three Prop 65 chemicals naphthalene, benzene and ethylbenzene in the waste water from the two Seneca fracking wells are far in excess of Prop 65 standards: benzene was found at more than 2,000 times the state standard, naphthalene as high as 181 times the standard, and ethyl-benzene as much as 20 times the standard.
The Seneca injections continued at least into March 2015, the latest reporting period for which the state has records. The Tisdale facility is near Lost Hills; groundwater in this area is considered a potential drinking water source for nearby residents.
CEH is not the only citizen enforcement group seeking to “protect our dwindling water resources, however.
The Environmental Research Center (ERC) recently targeted frackers in a notice of violation served in early July. The notice alleges Macpherson Energy Corporation and Macpherson Oil Company released Arsenic (inorganic arsenic compounds), Benzene, Benzo[a]pyrene, Benzo[b]fluoranthene, Chrysene, Ethylbenzene, Lead, Radionuclides, and Shale-oils in sources of drinking water in California.
ERC cited two water code investigation orders issued by the State Regional Water Control Board on August 18, 2014 and May 15, 2015 that allege McPherson Oil Company has “been injecting fluids by oil and gas extraction activities into aquifers that may not have been properly designated as exempt aquifers under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.”
The wells are situated near Bishop in the Sierra foothills of California and the Tulare Lake basin. The U.S. EPA confirmed when reviewing aquifer exemptions in 2012 that toxic chemicals had been released into sources of drinking water.
Last summer, the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) admitted it allowed oil companies to inject waste water from fracking and other operations for years into hundreds of disposal wells in aquifers that were supposed to be protected sources of drinking water.
Federal EPA officials call the state regulatory failures “shocking” and say the state waste water injection policies do not comply with the Clean Water Act.