Threats from Oil and Gas Production in California

Oil and gas production threatens California's water, air, climate, health and safety. Our work focuses on addressing some of the many  impacts of oil and gas production.

Water Contamination

Oil and gas operations present numerous threats to surface water and groundwater in California. Here's a quick overview of some of the threats.

Chemicals used in Production and Maintenance

Well stimulation techniques, like fracking and acidizing, and other types of oil production, typically use harmful chemicals that can pollute surface and groundwater and cause irreversible damage. Leaking wells, chemical spills, underground migration and improper wastewater disposal are all realities of oil production and can contaminate both surface and groundwater .

In 2013, with the passage of SB 4 (Pavley), California became the first state in the country to require complete chemical transparency, with public reporting,  for fracking and other well stimulation fluids. However, oil and gas companies still do not have to disclose chemicals used in other processes, such as enhanced recovery techniques like cyclic steam injection or the acids used in routine well maintenance.

SB 4, also required the state to begin to monitor groundwater near fracking and acidizing operations. Clean Water is working to ensure that monitoring conducted is as effectively as possible in order to detect potential contamination and that monitoring requirements are expanded to address contamination threats from other operations beyond just well stimulation, like waste disposal injection wells.

Threats from Oil and Gas Wastewater

In 2014, California oil and gas companies produced 205 million barrels of oil and over 3.2 billion barrels of wastewater- more than 15 barrels of wastewater for every gallon of oil produced. Wastewater comprises 95% of all fluids recovered from California oil wells. Oil and gas wastewater is made up of naturally occurring formation fluids  (also called "produced water") which is usually high in salts, metals, other harmful chemicals like benzene and boron and sometimes radioactive materials. It also generally contains fluids and chemicals injected throughout the life of a well, such as during fracking, acidizing, enhanced oil recovery processes and routine maintenance. The disposal of this massive wastestream presents challenges and risks no matter which disposal method is used.

Unlined Pits

Disposal into unlined pits is a commonly used disposal method that directly threatens groundwater and air quality. Our 2014 investigative report, In the Pits, focused attention on this issue, and has spurred a new crack down on illegal dumping. We are currently working to prohibit this outdated and dangerous disposal method.

Underground Injection

The most common disposal method is injection into disposal or enhanced recovery wells.  There are over 50,000 active injection wells in the state, yet oversight of these wells and enforcement of the law has been wholly inadequate. In a massive failure on the part of State regulators, thousands of wells were permitted to inject directly in potential sources of drinking water. We are working to overhaul the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program and shut down polluting wells.

Air Pollution: Health and Climate Impacts

Californians At Risk

Oil and gas production pollutes air, impacting both the health of residents who live near oil and gas facilities and harming the climate by emitting the powerful greenhouse gas, methane and volatile organic compounds. Roughly 2 million Californians live within one mile of an active oil well. We are investigating the health effects of oil drilling in one of the most impacted communities in the state, Lost Hills, in Kern County. Partnering with residents, we are shedding light on health impacts suffered by residents by  working to establish ongoing air monitoring and health impacts investigation to this fence line community.

As the state works to develop rules for methane emissions from oil and gas production, Clean Water is also working to ensure that the state adopts the strongest possible restrictions on greenhouse gas and other health threatening emissions from these facilities. There are numerous communities living near oil production in California, from Los Angeles, to Ventura, to Kern County, where we have focused our work (show map).

Real time air monitoring project launched in Lost Hills: Coming soon!

Seismic Risk

On Shaky Ground

Injection of oil and gas wastewater has been linked with induced seismicity in places like Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma, where earthquakes have increased by a factor of 28 over the last five years coinciding with the increase in injection of fracking related wastewater.

California of course is already earthquake country, with thousands of known and unknown faults crisscrossing the state. Of the roughly 1500 disposal wells, more than half are within 10 miles of an active fault.