In California, Study Finds Drilling and Fracking into Freshwater Formations, The overlap of oil and gas development and water sources underscores the vulnerability of California’s groundwater, and the need for monitoring, the authors said by Neela Banerjee, June 27, 2016, InsideClimate News
In California’s farming heartland, as many as one of every five oil and gas projects occurs in underground sources of fresh water, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study by Stanford scientists assessed the amount of groundwater that could be used for irrigation and drinking supplies in five counties of California’s agricultural Central Valley, as well as the three coastal counties encompassing Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura. The study estimated that water-scarce California could have almost three times as much fresh groundwater as previously thought.
But the authors also found that oil and gas activity occurred in underground freshwater formations in seven of the eight counties.
Most of the activity was light, but in the Central Valley’s Kern County, the hub of the state’s oil industry, 15 to 19 percent of oil and gas activity occurs in freshwater zones, the authors estimated.
The overlap of oil and gas development and underground freshwater formations underscores the vulnerability of California’s groundwater, and the need for close monitoring of it, the authors said.
“We don’t know what effect oil and gas activity has had on groundwater resources, and one reason to highlight this intersection is to consider if we need additional safeguards on this water,” said Robert B. Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford University and one of the study’s co-authors.
The study arrives as California grapples with the possible impact of past oil and gas activity on its groundwater resources and the push to develop new fossil fuel reservoirs through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In 2014, state officials admitted that for years they had allowed oil and gas companies to pump billions of gallons of wastewater into more than 2,000 disposal wells located in federally protected aquifers. In 2015, Kern County officials found hundreds of unlined, unregulated wastewater pits, often near farm fields. Oil and gas wastewater is highly saline and laced with toxic substances, such as the carcinogen benzene.
Environmentalists pointed to the revelations to argue for a ban on fracking in California. The state instead chose to allow fracking. It adopted a new law, SB 4, which is among the most stringent in the country to govern the process, requiring companies to test groundwater before and after fracking and to disclose chemicals used in fracking fluid. [Have any companies complied, and if so, which ones, how often, and where are the chemical lists made public? FracFocus is Bogus with heaps of trade secret loopholes?]
Jackson and co-author Mary Kang’s research looked at oil and gas drilling and production that have been going on for years, some of it in the same geological strata as freshwater resources. The scientists also expanded their assessment to include underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, defined under federal law as more saline aquifers that could supply usable drinking water after some form of water treatment. USDWs are typically deeper underground than freshwater resources. Fracking into USDWs is legal, but the oil and gas industry has long insisted that fracking occurs far deeper than where aquifers are located. [Fracing into fresh drinking water aquifers as Encana did at Rosebud in 2004 was illegal, regulators only bullying and abused the citizens presenting evidence of contamination and non-compliance and engaged hard in fraud to lie and cover up for Encana. Not one Canadian water “expert” is speaking out about these atrocities. After Encana had illegally fractured at 100.5 metres and 121.5 metres directly into Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers and fracing the impermeable layers, Encana manager Mark Taylor (now working for the legally immune corrupt AER) looked harmed citizens in the eye, and spewed forth the same bullshit: Encana only ever frac’s way deep, far below the community’s drinking water supply and far below the impermeable layers the prevent gas from migrating into the drinking water.] Kang and Jackson found that oil and gas activity could be found in one in three USDWs within the eight counties they studied.
The impact of such activity remains murky, the authors wrote. “Showing direct impact to groundwater resources deeper than ~100 [meters] is rarely possible in California or elsewhere because little or no monitoring is done below the depth of typical domestic water wells,” the study reported. “Because testing and monitoring of groundwater, especially deeper resources, are rarely undertaken, very little is known about the potential impact of such activities.” [Of course! The reason for no monitoring is obvious: decade after decade, companies can get away with contaminating drinking water. Even if monitoring did occur, regulators would do nothing if it was proven that oil and gas was contaminating groundwater, other than fraudulently cover it up]
A March 2016 study Jackson co-authored showed that oil and gas companies fracked into relatively shallow groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming, and the water contained chemicals related to substances that companies reported using in local fracking operations. These included diesel-related and volatile organic compounds, such as benzene and the neurotoxin toluene.
The new study’s larger estimate of fresh water in California is based on its examination of water deeper underground. Studies from past decades typically assessed water at shallow depths because scientists assumed that fresh water did not occur deep in the earth, Jackson said. The study recommended additional water testing to determine the quality of the water more accurately. The study’s overall data “show relatively fresh water is surprisingly abundant at deeper depths.”
The assessment of USDWs is the first in the state [Of course decades too late for California’s water], said Preston Jordan, a geologist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who reviewed the paper. Estimates of the amount of water held by USDWs had not been done in the past because people thought the water was too saline to use. [Or to protect the oil and gas industry fracing into it, and using the aquifers as free sewers?] But as California comes to grips with chronic water scarcity, desalination plants have been built or are being planned, Jordan said. Other states, such as Texas and Florida, and countries such as China are turning to desalination to meet growing water demands, the study noted. [Who will pay for the massively expensive plants? The oil and gas industry polluters?]
“While this water wasn’t drunk in the past, it could become important in the California context, now that we’re four to five years into a drought,” he said.
The study’s finding about more usable water in the state could encourage Californians to think the state has more water than it actually has and stop conserving, said Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist and professor of earth science at University of California-Irvine. Already, a third of the world’s large aquifers are being drained by human consumption and there is little reliable information about how much groundwater exists in the world, according to a 2015 study.
Jackson said he understands the peril of telling people in a parched state that they have more water than they think. “We aren’t advocating for this water to be pumped any time soon,” he said. The groundwater is “like a savings account. We can spend it all now or save it for when we really need it. We are suggesting the state safeguard it for the future.” [Emphasis added]
Salinity of deep groundwater in California: Water quantity, quality, and protection by Mary Kanga and Robert B. Jacksona, Published online before print June 27, 2016, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1600400113 , PNAS June 27, 2016
Groundwater withdrawals are increasing across the United States, particularly in California, which faces a growing population and prolonged drought. Deep groundwater aquifers provide an alternative source of fresh and saline water that can be useable with desalination and/or treatment. In the Central Valley alone, fresh groundwater volumes can be increased almost threefold, and useable groundwater volumes can be increased fourfold if we extend depths to 3,000 m. However, some of these deep groundwater resources are vulnerable to contamination from oil/gas and other human activities. Our findings provide the first estimates, to our knowledge, of underground sources of drinking water depths and volumes in California and show the need to better characterize and protect deep groundwater aquifers.
Deep groundwater aquifers are poorly characterized but could yield important sources of water in California and elsewhere. Deep aquifers have been developed for oil and gas extraction, and this activity has created both valuable data and risks to groundwater quality. Assessing groundwater quantity and quality requires baseline data and a monitoring framework for evaluating impacts. We analyze 938 chemical, geological, and depth data points from 360 oil/gas fields across eight counties in California and depth data from 34,392 oil and gas wells. By expanding previous groundwater volume estimates from depths of 305 m to 3,000 m in California’s Central Valley, an important agricultural region with growing groundwater demands, fresh [<3,000 ppm total dissolved solids (TDS)] groundwater volume is almost tripled to 2,700 km3, most of it found shallower than 1,000 m. The 3,000-m depth zone also provides 3,900 km3 of fresh and saline water, not previously estimated, that can be categorized as underground sources of drinking water (USDWs; <10,000 ppm TDS). Up to 19% and 35% of oil/gas activities have occurred directly in freshwater zones and USDWs, respectively, in the eight counties. Deeper activities, such as wastewater injection, may also pose a potential threat to groundwater, especially USDWs. Our findings indicate that California’s Central Valley alone has close to three times the volume of fresh groundwater and four times the volume of USDWs than previous estimates suggest. Therefore, efforts to monitor and protect deeper, saline groundwater resources are needed in California and beyond. [Emphasis added]