Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells title=
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells
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Source: Environmental Defense Center

Community groups are calling on Santa Barbara County to deny three new proposals to triple onshore oil production in the County using high-pressure steam and acidizing in Cat Canyon after federal scientists found evidence of oil-field fluids in groundwater underlying the nearby Orcutt oil field.

The contamination was discovered at a field where Pacific Coast Energy Corporation (“PCEC “) has operated steam injection drilling and acidizing for over a decade.   Fortunately, the County denied PCEC’s request to expand its operations in 2016.       
    
Now, the U.S. Geological Survey (“USGS”) has just unveiled findings of groundwater contamination in Kern, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties. In response, Ventura County immediately imposed a moratorium on all new steam injection near groundwater supplies. The three proposed Cat Canyon projects all rely on steam injection and would drill through the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin—a key source of drinking water for the Santa Maria region and irrigation for prime farmland and vineyards.
 
“The results of the USGS tests present grave health and safety concerns. The tests reveal that contaminants from cyclic steam drilling and acidizing are contaminating water wells. The risk to our water supply is unacceptable. The County should not approve any further oil projects that put our drinking water at risk,” said Katie Davis, Chair of Los Padres Sierra Club.
 
The USGS says the full Orcutt report will be available later this year but the preliminary results were recently presented to the California Water Boards in a live web simulcast. The study found:

·         4 out of 16 wells sampled in the Orcutt field had geochemical indicators of oil-field fluids mixed with groundwater.
·         Methane and other gases may be migrating through formations along leaky wells/wellbores or faults and mixing with overlying groundwater.
·         Evidence of wastewater from oil extraction was also discovered in the groundwater.

The discovery of oil-field fluids in groundwater in the Orcutt oil field comes as oil companies ERG, Aera, and PetroRock seek approval to drill over 700 new oil wells in the nearby Cat Canyon oil field using the same high-intensity steaming techniques and wastewater injection linked to contamination identified in the USGS study.

In a recent letter submitted to the County by the Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”) on behalf of Sierra Club and Santa Barbara County Action Network (“SBCAN”), EDC presented evidence from its own investigation that revealed that ERG has had dozens of Notices of Violations issued by local and state agencies, is responsible for starting two wildfires on its property that burned over thirty-five acres, had an employee die operating an oil rig on its lease, and  illegally injected toxic wastewater into freshwater aquifers underlying Cat Canyon through forty-seven wells in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
 
“The Cat Canyon oil projects threaten our groundwater, air quality, wildlife, and public safety and will worsen climate change,” said Alicia Roessler, Staff Attorney for EDC. “ERG has an appalling history of oil spills and violations and should not be allowed to expand its operations.”     

"For several years SBCAN has been raising concerns about oil-field fluids potentially contaminating the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin, on which 200,000 people rely for drinking water," said Ken Hough, Executive Director of SBCAN. "Unfortunately, the USGS findings bear out this concern--it's not a potential, it's real."
ERG’s project is currently being considered by the County Planning Commission and will be discussed tomorrow morning.  Although the applicant has asked for a continuance, EDC, Sierra Club and SBCAN will ask the Commission to direct County staff to prepare findings for denial.

EDC’s comment letter can be found here.
The Orcutt presentation can be found here.
The Oxnard presentation can be found here.
The Kern County report can be found in a link in this Bakersfield Now story.

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a-1575909312 May 30, 2019 07:50 AM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

I am extremely concerned about contaminated groundwater/drinking water. I think most people are - who wants to drink something that is contaminated and could make you sick or give you cancer? No one. As I , like most, simply do not have the time or resources (or sufficient knowledge) to discover objective fact and make conclusions I rely on groups such as this, who promote themselves as public watchdogs, to do their job and present the objective facts and reliable conclusions based on those facts. Sadly this reads more like propaganda to me and is disappointing. Could someone please answer the following, with cites to reliable sources: 1. Exactly which wells are contaminated; 2. What/who do those wells serve; 3. The exact nature of the contaminants and how they arrived at that conclusion; 4. What ill effects these contaminants can cause immediately and over time 5. How they determined this information and what they base their conclusions on 5. What percentage of our water here in SB is from desalination plant (I believe it's about 30%) and 6. Could replacing with desalinated water resolve this problem and last but not least 7. The exact source of the contaminants (natural vs manmade) and exactly how they arrived at that conclusion. Thanks.

Luvaduck May 29, 2019 03:28 PM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

In the Spring 2019 issue of "Earthjustice" an article states that "Historically, Oklahomans had felt an average of one or two sizable rumbles per year, bu that number has more recently spiked to two or three per day." The article goes on to give specifics, and this has been the case in other places, Pennsylvania, for one. If there is any chance that fracking also is contaminating our ground water, the increased danger of serious earthquakes and potentially unpotable water should halt this no question. There would be no start-over if those things happen. The risk is much greater than any possible reward to anybody whose property and life is somewhere else.

Factotum May 29, 2019 02:15 PM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

There is a grip of hysteria happening locally that has become quite disturbing. It is hitting many levels - vaccinations; MAD academy claims; and not "fracking". Something is afoot in the local psyche - people feeling very vulnerable, helpless and victimized. Anything now triggers this current under-current malaise. Any other thoughts - superstition over-riding reasoned facts. There is some sort of payoff feeling so dystopian. And selectively hypocritical at the same time.

PitMix May 30, 2019 09:16 AM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

Are you the same poster that has been pretty hysterical on any number of issues, especially on the quality of life in Santa Barbara? On this you appear to be a wise well-reasoned person urging no rush to judgment. Hope to see this approach on other issues as well.

a-1575909312 May 29, 2019 01:23 PM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

The four sampled wells that showed increased chemical indicator levels were all drilled before 1978. Drilling technology has vastly improved since the 1970s. There are no data in this study to support the proposition that drilling with modern technology will lead to contaminated aquifers.

Eggs Ackley May 30, 2019 07:36 AM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

How was it possible to be so obtuse? Once the aquifer is contaminated it's game over forever. It's clear that you don't understand petroleum extraction technology and are relying on talking points from the industry.

Z May 29, 2019 02:22 PM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

The four sampled wells that showed increased chemical indicator levels were all drilled before 1978. There are no data in this study to support the proposition that drilling with modern technology will not also lead to contaminated aquifers.

a-1575909312 May 29, 2019 01:35 PM
Oil-field Contaminants Found in Santa Barbara County Water Wells

It is possible there is seepage of oil products along the well casing, BUT it is also possible the groundwater itself is contaminated at locations other than the wells as a result of oil extraction, then flows into the wells. We can't know which it is, so in my opinion it isn't worth the risk of IRREVERSIBLY contaminated the basins further.

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