Water Worries Flood Calif. Fracking Study

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – An independent study on fracking released Thursday called on California to limit operators’ use of hazardous chemicals and ban others until scientists can prove they are safe for the environment.
     The report found there is not enough information available about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing wells and that the toxicity of certain chemicals and their impact on drinking water have yet to be studied.
     California’s oil and gas operators are subject to few restrictions on the chemicals they use, and the study found 316 chemical additives are being used in fracking operations. According to the report, some of the chemicals – including bromic acid and hydrochloric acid – possess real risks to humans and wildlife and should be regulated by the state.
     “The overall number of different chemicals should be reduced, and the use of more hazardous chemicals and chemicals with poor environmental profiles should be reduced, avoided, or disallowed,” the report stated.
     The report comes just two days after the state’s water regulator introduced some of the strictest reporting requirements for fracking operations in the country. The two-year study was conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and was commissioned by the state Senate following the passage of the Golden State’s first fracking law in 2013.
     Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, authored Senate Bill 4 and said Thursday’s report “validated” her reasons for introducing the fracking regulation law.
     “Government agencies, the public in general and residents living near well sites need to know in detail about the presence of dangerous chemicals mixed in water used in fracking and then pumped to the surface as byproducts,” Pavley said in a statement.
     Pavley said her current proposed bill, Senate Bill 248, will be amended to include a list of approved chemicals that operators can use.
     Researchers found that the chemical additives are all “undesirable” in drinking water and that in some cases, recycled wastewater is being used to water crops. While fracking chemicals have not been found in the recycled irrigation water, the report says there is no mechanism or control to prevent it from happening in the future.
     The study highlights an alarming and largely unregulated method in which operators store wastewater in percolation pits, specifically in Kern County. Operators dump the untreated mix of chemical additives into large pits where the wastewater evaporates and eventually percolates into the groundwater.
     The storage pits provide a direct passage for the chemical mixture to be swept away into drinking water and possibly contaminate water used for crops and animals. According to the report, states including Kentucky, Texas and Ohio have banned the percolation pits because they have “demonstrably contaminated groundwater.”
     Madeline Stano, staff attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, said her group gave tours of fracking sites in Kern County to some of the scientists that worked on the study. Gov. Jerry Brown is allowing the oil industry to “drill first and ask questions about safety later,” Stano said.
     “CSST study confirms what communities in Kern County and Los Angeles already knew. Gov. Brown is conducting a science experiment on millions of Californians without their consent every day,” Stano told Courthouse News. “Californians deserve better health protections and climate leadership from Gov. Brown.”
     The report acknowledged that while there are no records of hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminating ground or surface water in California, only a small amount of research has been done on the topic and that more reporting should be required of operators.
     “Data describing the quality of groundwater near hydraulic fracturing sites are not universally available,” the report stated.
     Due to California’s historic drought, cities and towns are running out of water – most of them in the Central Valley, which is also home to the majority of the state’s fracking operations. The study found that operators receive 68 percent of their water from nearby irrigation districts and just 13 percent from their own wells.
     Although operators claim most of their water comes from outside sources, the report said hydraulic fracturing represents just .2 percent of all water use in regions where fracking operations occur, and that number could increase as more hydraulic wells are added.
     The oil industry applauded the study for confirming the safety and sustainability of fracking in the Golden State.
     “This sound science, coupled with the most comprehensive oil regulations in the nation, ensures California remains on a path of responsible production to secure our state’s energy needs. Producing oil and gas here, under our toughest-in-the-nation standards, creates affordable energy for Californians and reduces our dependence on foreign oil while protecting quality jobs and revenue for vital programs,” Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for Californians for Energy Independence, said in a statement.
     State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, viewed the report differently than Lockhart, tweeting that the report “shows how little we know” regarding fracking and that “it’s imperative that we get answers, accountability from big oil.”

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