Farmers Say Oil Firms & Governor Brown Colluded to Pollute Aquifer

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Chevron and Occidental inject more contaminated waste into the San Joaquin Aquifer each month than BP dumped oil into the Gulf of Mexico, farmers say in a RICO complaint.
     The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water sued the oil companies and the state of California on Wednesday in Federal Court.
     It claims that defendant Gov. Jerry Brown et al. violated the Safe Drinking Water Act by approving permits for underground oil wells in the San Joaquin Valley, through the co-defendant California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.
     Also sued is the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group.
     The 50-page lawsuit gets right to the point: “Every month, Occidental and Chevron directly pump 2.63 times more toxic waste water into the San Joaquin Aquifer than oil released into the Gulf during the entire BP spill,” it begins. “The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) plans to allow them to continue for another 21 months. This lawsuit is brought to stop the poisoning of the San Joaquin aquifer and to remediate the damage already done to the farmland of Kern County.”
     The farmers are not suing for violations of state or federal environmental laws. They accuse Brown and the oil companies of racketeering, through a secret agreement to boost oil production and tax revenue for the state.
     During her tenure as California Oil & Gas supervisor, Elena Miller refused to grant permits to the oil companies under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the group says. It claims that the oil companies refused to provide Miller’s agency with geological and engineering studies that are required under state and federal law.
     Those studies would have demonstrated the companies were injecting waste water directly into aquifers, the complaint states. To address the problems, Chevron and Occidental would have had to hire more workers, increasing expenses and reducing profits, the farmers say.
     Brown yanked Miller from her office in November 2011, “after intense lobbying from Central Valley legislators and the oil and gas exploration and production industry,” the Stoel Rives law firm reported at the time on its California Environmental Law Blog.
     Brown appointed Tim Kustic to replace Miller and the floodgates opened for oil companies seeking permits for underground injection wells, the group claims. In a single year, Kustic granted 1,575 permits to oil companies, up from the typical 50 permits per year, according to the complaint.
     The farmers claim the government and companies conspired to “minimize labor expenses that would have arisen if they followed the law while at the same time taking federal funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
     The toxic injections include chemicals the companies use in oil production. Every barrel of oil produced creates 10 barrels of contaminated water, according to the lawsuit.
     “Of particular concern to farmers in the Valley is sodium chloride (or salt). Sodium chloride levels in water from oil production will often exceed the amount found in sea water,” the complaint states.
     Excess chloride has damaged orchards on farmland, said plaintiffs’ attorney Rex Parris, of Lancaster.
     “California is experiencing the greatest drought of this generation, and protecting fresh water is of paramount concern,” Parris said in a statement.
     Brown and other officials “suppressed research, destroyed documents, and refused to provide all information requested” to conceal evidence of permitting for injection wells, the group claims.
     This deprived farmers of “fresh water, fair opportunities to earn an income, and honest government services,” the lawsuit states.
     Claiming that San Joaquin Valley farms provide “25 percent of all table food in the U.S.,” the groups say the valley has two precious underground resources: oil and water. And that oil production is threatening the water on which agriculture depends.
     Parris called the lawsuit a “landmark” RICO case and said it would have “far-reaching implications.”
     The farmers seek an injunction and punitive damages for RICO violations and violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
     They also want the state ordered to make its geological and hydrological studies of the problem public, and the oil companies ordered to refrain from “engaging in any public relations endeavor that misrepresents or suppresses information concerning the health risks and environmental risks associated with oil production or nonconventional well drilling activities and from associating with any other persons for the purpose of engaging in such conduct.”
     The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

%d bloggers like this: