[env-trinity] Article Submission: Oil Company Fined for Illegally Discharging Fracking Fluid in CA

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Tue Nov 26 11:42:32 PST 2013

Oil Company Fined for Illegally Discharging Fracking Fluid in CA
Posted on 19 November 2013

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By Dan Bacher

The oil industry in California has constantly claimed that fracking  
(hydraulic fracturing) for oil and natural gas is "safe" and doesn't  
harm the environment.

"An honest appraisal of the science and common sense around hydraulic  
fracturing leads to a conclusion the technology we’ve used without  
harm in California for 60 plus years is safe and its benefits a  
blessing," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States  
Petroleum Association (WSPA), earlier this year.

"Oil drilling activities in California are strictly regulated by  
several agencies and the state’s oil producers are working closely  
with the government to develop even stronger protections to ensure the  
vast potential of the Monterey Shale can be realized," she claimed.

However, Reheis-Boyd fails to mention that the discharge of fracking  
fluid, composed of toxic chemicals that the oil industry refuses to  
disclose because they consider them a trade secret, presents an  
enormous threat to groundwater supplies, streams, fish and wildlife.

In the most recent example of the threat to the environment and human  
health that fracking poses, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality  
Board on November 15 ordered an oil company, Vintage Production  
California LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, to pay a  
$60,000 penalty for discharging hydraulic fracturing fluid into an  
unlined sump in violation of the California Water Code.

A fracking operation, Photo credit: Joshua Doubek

The penalty is the result of a settlement agreement between Vintage  
and the Water Board's prosecution team, and is the maximum penalty  
allowable under the state Water Code.

"The prosecution team’s investigation determined that Vintage  
periodically discharged saline water, formation fluids, and hydraulic  
fracturing fluid to an unlined sump for 12 days," according to a Water  
Board news release. "The sump was next to a newly drilled Vintage oil  
well near the City of Shafter in Kern County. The prosecution team  
concluded the discharge posed a threat to groundwater quality and that  
Vintage violated the Water Code for the unpermitted discharge of  
wastewater to land."

The investigation that led to the settlement began immediately after a  
YouTube video was brought to the prosecution team’s attention.

The team issued an investigative order under Water Code Section 13267  
that required Vintage to provide a technical report with specific  
details about the operation of the well and the discharges to the sump.

After reviewing the submitted technical information, the prosecution  
team issued a Notice of Violation to Vintage for the discharge of  
fluids to the sump for 12 days (September 30 through October 11, 2012)  
in violation of General Waiver Resolution R5-2008-0192 and Water Code  
Section 13350, according to the Water Board.

“The discharge of high-salinity water to unlined sumps in areas with  
good quality groundwater, such as at the Vintage Production site near  
Shafter, is not consistent with the Tulare Lake Basin Plan,” said  
Central Valley Water Board Executive Officer Pamela Creedon. “We are  
concerned that similar discharges may have occurred elsewhere  
throughout the Central Valley."

"Past and future drilling operations will be evaluated to ensure that  
operators are in compliance with Basin Plan policy. Additionally, we  
are presently revising General Waiver Resolution R5-2008-0192 to more  
specifically address oil field drilling fluid discharges to unlined  
sumps located in the Central Valley," she stated.

Creedon said Vintage agreed to cease discharging to unlined sumps in  
agricultural areas - and the company is "voluntarily investigating"  
the leaching potential of the solidified material in the closed sump.

Opponents of fracking point out that incidents like this one will  
become increasing common as oil companies ramp up fracking and  
acidizing operations to extract oil from Monterey Shale deposits in  
the Central Valley and coastal areas. On September 20, Governor Jerry  
Brown signed Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4, legislation that  
gives the green light to the expansion of fracking operations in  

The $60,000 fine is just chump change for an oil company like  
Occidental. The Los Angeles-based company said earnings in the third  
quarter of 2013 jumped more than 14% as domestic oil production  
increased and gas prices rose, according to the LA Times.

"The company reported a profit of $1.58 billion, or $1.96 a share, in  
the three months ended Sept. 30," the LA Times reported. "That was  
compared to $1.38 billion, or $1.69 a share, from the same quarter a  
year earlier. Sales jumped 8.1% to $6.45 billion."

The oil industry, represented by the Western States Petroleum  
Association, is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in  
Sacramento. Big Oil wields huge influence over the Legislature,  
Governor's Office and state agencies through lobbying, campaign  
contributions and domination of regulatory processes, such as Reheis- 
Boyd's chairing of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative  
Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in  
Southern California.

Chevron, the Western States Petroleum Association and Aera Energy LLC  
spent the most money of any organizations or companies lobbying  
legislators in the third quarter of 2013, according to California  
Secretary of State documents.

Chevron spent $1,696,477, the Western States Petroleum Association  
(WSPA) spent $1,269,478 and Aera Energy LLC spent $1,015,534. That’s a  
total of $3,981,489 just between July 1 and September 30, 2013. In the  
first three quarters of 2013, WSPA alone spent a total of $3,578,266  
on lobbying legislators.

Before the release of third quarter lobbying expenditures, a report  
released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil  
industry lobby has spent $45.4 million in the state influencing  
legislators since 2009. The Western States Petroleum Association  
(WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009.

Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy  
access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop  
Fooling California, "an online and social media public education and  
awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead  
and confuse Californians."

The draft Settlement Agreement and Stipulation for Entry of  
Administrative Civil Liability Order R5-2013-0587 (Stipulated Order)  
is available for a 30-day public review and comment period prior to  
consideration by the Central Valley Water Board.

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