The Center for Biological Diversity Blatantly Misrepresents Results of Groundwater Analysis

An analysis from California water officials completely contradicts the alarmist water contamination claims of a fringe environmental group called the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

In a recent press release, Tucson, Ariz.-based CBD claimed that a recent assessment conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) concluded that “billions of gallons of oil industry wastewater” has contaminated the water table in Central California. But the SWRCB itself says exactly the opposite: “[T]est results indicate that the injection wells have not degraded groundwater quality.”

The Bakersfield Californian accurately reported on the new groundwater test results as follows:

Well tests find no contamination from waste injections

Initial groundwater testing ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence Kern County water wells were contaminated by nearby oil field waste injection activity.

That conclusion is very clear, and it is, of course, good news for Californians concerned with water quality. It is not at all good news for the fringe of the environmental movement that wants to ban all oil and gas activity in our state and the billions of dollars of economic activity and the nearly 500,000 jobs the industry supports.

The CBD has exposed its true colors with its false press release and analysis: It will say anything, even untruths that can be easily verified, in pursuit of its anti-energy agenda.

So, how could the “litigation factory” CBD describe the exact same test results in as follows?

Confirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater

The reason such a blatant falsehood could even be attempted is because the CBD does not trouble itself with science, facts, or even sensible environmental regulation. The group is, in fact, opposed to oil production of any kind, even production that is regulated under the most stringent environmental rules in the country.

First, a little background.

Kern County water testing

The purpose of California’s strictest-in-the-nation environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry is first and foremost to protect public health and safety, and secondarily to promote “economic vitality, informed land-use decisions and sound management of our state’s natural resources.”

These are all important aims, and it is heartening that regulators (scientists) take all legitimate concerns about possible water contamination seriously. That is just what the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) did in July when it examined 11 wells in Kern County – not because there was any evidence or claims of water contamination, but, simply, as the state Oil and Gas Supervisor said, “out of an abundance of caution.”

Groundwater test results are in

Now the results are available from EPA-ordered tests conducted by SWRCB on water located near Class II underground disposal wells in Kern County and, again, the results show no evidence – none — of any water contamination linked to oil and gas activity.

Class II underground disposal wells, typically a mile deep, are a routine way to dispose of water – not fracking fluid — produced in oil and gas operations. As DOGGR notes:

Class II injection wells provide a viable and safe method to enhance oil and gas production and dispose of produced fluids and other fluids associated with oil- and gas-production operations.

The executive director of the SWRCB was very clear in a Sept. 23 report:

Thus far, the test results indicate that the injection wells have not degraded groundwater quality in the tested water supply wells. [emphasis added]

There is, then, not an honest disagreement between scientists and the CBD about test results. The results of the study were crystal clear and CBD is trying to confuse its members to advance a particularly radical anti-development agenda.

The steward of CBD’s alternate reality (also the contact on the press release – who conveniently is the same “expert” quoted in it) is a lawyer named Hollin Kretzmann.  Based on recent writings, he seems to be the CBD’s new point man on fracking-related misinformation (even though it is a misnomer to call injection wells “fracking-related”) but who unfortunately exhibits no evidence that he understands the oil and gas development process.

For starters, water that is produced (it isn’t “waste”) as a result of oil production is produced regardless of whether a well is hydraulically fractured. As with many industries, the water is sometimes re-injected into disposal wells, cleaner than when it came out and this has nothing to do with the fracking process.

Just as importantly, the clear implication of CBD’s press release is that produced water has been injected into drinking water or irrigation water aquifers. This is patently untrue. All produced water injection is permitted by regulators and takes place thousands of feet below the base of fresh water wells or fresh water aquifers. The question of “exempt” vs. “non-exempt” is a paperwork issue covered previously here. Again, no contamination of drinking water was found or even alleged by DOGGR.

“Mike G” of anti-industry website DeSmog Blog reported uncritically on CBD’s press release, adding its own misinformation:

Fracking has been accused of exacerbating California’s epic state-wide drought, but the Central Valley region, which has some of the worst air and water pollution in the state, has borne a disproportionate amount of the impacts from oil companies’ increasing use of the controversial oil extraction technique.

News of billions of gallons of fracking wastewater contaminating protected aquifers relied on by residents of the Central Valley for drinking water could not have come at a worse time.

Adding insult to injury, fracking is a water-intensive process, using as much as 140,000 to 150,000 gallons per frack job every day, permanently removing it from the water cycle.

The combination of willful obfuscation and ignorance here is shocking.

Fracking has only been accused on contributing to California’s drought by CBD itself, DeSmog Blog, Food and Water Watch, and other fringe anti-industry groups. Those who understand oil and gas development know that the process produces water at about a 15:1 oil/water ratio. It was never in the water cycle to begin with. This is new water that is treated and used for enhanced oil recovery, reinjection into the formation (cleaner than when it came out) or sold to agriculture for irrigation – helping that important industry mitigate the impact of the drought.

And to write that hydraulic fracturing used as much as 150,000 gallons of water “every day” is as bald-faced a lie as activists have ever told. A hydraulic fracturing job in California uses an average of this much water once. (This is about 1/5 of an Olympic sized swimming pool.) Fracking is not an ongoing process, and the relatively few wells we fracture in California take a few hours to two days to fracture. These wells then produce the energy that Californians need for decades.

CBD knows it’s not being honest

Lest there be a lingering impression that there are some honest differences in interpretation of the data of the Kern County investigation, the Bakersfield Californian story proves that CBD’s Kretzmann knows that there was no industry related contamination found:

Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney with one of the environmental groups, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said he was unconvinced the chemicals found to exist at high levels in four of the water wells — arsenic, nitrate and thallium — did not originate with nearby injection facilities.

Anti-science “psychological warfare”

For the CBD to be “convinced” by science would go against its (multi-million dollar) business model. CBD founder Kieran Suckling in an interview with High Country News:

HCN: Were you hindered by not having science degrees?

SUCKLING: No. It was a key to our success. I think the professionalization of the environmental movement has injured it greatly. These kids get degrees in environmental conservation and wildlife management and come looking for jobs in the environmental movement. They’ve bought into resource management values and multiple use by the time they graduate. I’m more interested in hiring philosophers, linguists and poets. The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law. It’s campaigning instinct. [emphasis mine]

Again, sound environmental regulations are important for the reasons outlined above, the most important of which is to protect the public’s health and safety. It is important to acknowledge that sometimes there are problems with compliance that have to be addressed. For example, recently an operator was fined because the service company it hired used an unlined sump to hold production fluids when such sumps are only allowed to contain drilling fluids. Even in this circumstance, however, no contamination was found.

Extremist anti-industry groups, however, don’t believe in any regulation at all. They want nothing less than to shut down California’s (and the United States’) energy industry.

Here is CBD’s Suckling discussing the Forest Service:

New injunctions, new species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners want to tear their hair out. They feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed — and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules and at least get something done. Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning. [emphasis added]

To say the least, the CBD and its allies are not good-faith participants in a responsible discussion about protecting health and safety with strict and sensible environmental laws and regulations.

All serious participants in this important discussion about our energy future – industry, regulators, policymakers, environmentalists – should recognize that getting advice on regulation from CBD and its extremist allies is like getting advice from a fox on how to build a hen house.


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