In a letter obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the California State Water Resources Board writes that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting fracking water into central California aquifers that are protected under state and federal laws. Nineteen others pose potential contamination risks.
The EPA shut down 11 Kern County injection wells in July over concerns that the hydraulic fracturing operations were seeping into local groundwater supplies. State regulators were ordered to assess the risk within 60 days and have since confirmed that at least nine of the surveyed sites have contaminated local aquifers.
Dangerous chemicals such as arsenic and thallium (a toxin used in rat poison) have been detected in water samples collected from half of the sites, a fact that “raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents,” says professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands Timothy Krantz.
So far, nearly three billion gallons of toxic wastewater have entered Central Valley aquifers. More testing lies ahead.
“Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health,” says Hollin Krezmann, an attorney at the CBD. “But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”
The news of widespread contamination comes at a time when fracking is already a controversial issue in the state. Amidst the third-worst drought in California’s history, between 140,000 and 150,000 gallons of water are required per fracking operation per day. And the U.S. Bureau of Land Management threw more fuel on the fire when it agreed to restart leasing public lands to fracking companies despite a rushed and inadequate environmental assessment report.