California Scientists, Regulators: Benzene Naturally Occurring, Not a Threat to Drinking Water Aquifers
A recent Los Angeles Times article claims that, according to the publication’s analysis of state data, average benzene levels in “hundreds” of wells across California are on average “700 times higher than federal standards allow” and that:
“The presence of benzene in fracking waste water is raising alarm over potential public health dangers amid admissions by state oil and gas regulators that California for years inadvertently allowed companies to inject fracking flowback water into protected aquifers containing drinking water.”
Anti-energy activists are dishonestly using the benzene analysis to scare the public about a potential threat to drinking water. However, at a state oversight hearing on Wednesday, regulators and scientists refuted the article saying the Times was “conflating” two unrelated issues: fracking and produced water reinjection.
Both state regulators and Dr. Jane C.S. Long of CCST, a scientist hired by the state to conduct a peer-reviewed scientific study of fracking, stated that benzene is not a part of the fracking fluid used by California operators. Neither benzene nor other constituents in the water are “created” by the oil production process. They are naturally occurring in the brackish water that exists along with oil and gas. Since produced water is reinjected into aquifers that do not contain water suitable for human consumption (in fact they are usually the same aquifers from where the water came), no threat to drinking water exists.
The newspaper acknowledged that it relied on raw data compiled by the litigious anti-fracking activist group the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) for its analysis. It failed to mention, however, CBD has a history of misrepresenting these results.
As Energy In Depth pointed out in October, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) refuted CBD’s claims that an agency report indicated contamination of the Central California water table from “billions of gallons of oil industry wastewater.” Instead, the SWRCB report said:
“[T]est results indicate that the injection wells have not degrade groundwater quality.” [emphasis added]
This makes sense because produced water cannot be reinjected into zones where water is suitable for drinking.
As California Independent Petroleum Association chief executive Rock Zierman wrote in a recent column for EID:
State regulators have successfully regulated injection of produced water from oil and gas operations for decades. To date, there has not been a single case where the state has allowed injected water to taint drinkable water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked the state to help it update the paperwork used to regulate the practice and the state has developed a work plan to do so. Those are the facts. [emphasis added]
There are thousands of fully permitted injection wells used by the oil and gas industry in California. The water reinjected is simply the water that was naturally in the rock and comingled with the oil and natural gas. The oil and gas are removed from the water and it is reinjected back from where it came, cleaner than it was when it was initially removed. [emphasis added]
While sensationalist headlines suit activist aims (the San Francisco Chronicle did something similar earlier this week), they do not reflect the simple fact that at no time have California drinking water aquifers been in danger from either hydraulic fracturing or reinjection of produced water.