Over 150 community, environmental and health groups press governor for urgent action amid revelations of aquifer contamination, benzene in fracking wastewater
SACRAMENTO— After California officials admitted allowing hundreds of oil industry disposal wells to illegally inject wastewater into protected aquifers, more than 150 environmental and community groups filed a legal petition today pushing Gov. Jerry Brown to use his emergency powers to place a moratorium on fracking and other well stimulation techniques. The groups point to tests showing dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene in fracking flowback fluid, which is often dumped into injection wells.
“Millions of Californians living near oil and gas wells face grave health and safety threats from fracking and all phases of the oil and gas production process,” the groups wrote in a formal legalpetition delivered to Gov. Brown’s office. “The oil industry is polluting our air, contaminating our aquifers, using dangerous chemicals near homes and schools, increasing earthquake risk by injecting vast quantities of wastewater into disposal wells near active faults, and speeding climate change. These harms and risks pose an emergency and must be halted immediately.”
The legal petition was submitted under the state Administrative Procedure Act, which requires the governor to respond within 30 days. It comes on the heels of the largest anti-fracking rally in history, when 8,000 protesters gathered earlier this month.
“Gov. Brown can and should act immediately to protect California’s precious water supplies from benzene-laden fracking fluid,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies are illegally contaminating our aquifers during a devastating drought. Fracking also pollutes our air and worsens climate change. Our state suffers more damage every day the governor continues allowing fracking to contaminate our air and water.”
Environmental, health and community-based group leaders from all corners of the state have signed the petition on behalf of their organizations. Supporting organizations include Breast Cancer Action; the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Food & Water Watch; Greenpeace; 350.org; Physicians for Social Responsibility-San Francisco; California Environmental Justice Alliance; Earthworks; CREDO; Public Citizen; Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment; and the Center for Environmental Health.
In recent weeks, the magnitude of the emergency has become clearer. State officials admitted that hundreds of disposal wells are illegally injecting oil industry waste water into scores of protected aquifers, including some with water clean enough for drinking and irrigation. That means California’s water is being contaminated in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record. The oil industry is also operating hundreds of illegal wastewater disposal pits that pose water and air-pollution risks.
Fracking flowback fluid is a key part of the oil industry wastewater stream, and recent oil industry tests of this fracking flowback have found dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene and hexavalent chromium, in addition to other harmful chemicals. Average benzene levels were about 700 times the federal limit for drinking water.
“Cancer-causing chemicals like benzene have no place in California’s water supply,” said Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director at Breast Cancer Action. “These chemicals harm the health of current and future generations. Governor Brown needs to step up and halt fracking immediately.”
“Oil companies are fracking near homes and schools, and it’s time for Gov. Brown to end this terrible threat to public health,” said Juan Flores, a Delano-based organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “People in the state have suffered from fracking pollution for far too long. The governor needs to protect our air, our water, and our communities by halting fracking.”
“Gov. Brown has gone too far,” said Zack Malitz, campaign manager at CREDO. “It is unbelievable that Gov. Brown allowed the oil industry to break the law and inject poison into our aquifers. Gov. Brown will go down in history as the leader who poisoned Californians’ water in a giveaway to oil companies if he doesn’t stop fracking and all illegal injection wells immediately.”
Numerous scientific studies have linked fracking and other unconventional extraction methods to environmental damage and health problems, including cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses. The state of New York recently banned fracking after an exhaustive review by the state health department found that the method poses unacceptable risks to the environment and human health.
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