Injection Well Bill Proposed to Protect Groundwater

Everyone knows water and oil don’t mix. California’s lawmakers have been writing rules recently to make sure it stays that way when it comes to drinking water and the oil industry. Senate Bill 4, enacted in 2013, requires groundwater monitoring – and multiple other things — near wells that are fracked or acidized. Assemblymember Das Williams’s AB 356 seeks to close a gap in SB 4 and protect aquifers that might be affected by injection wells. “We cannot gamble the quality of safe drinking water, especially when the state is experiencing the worst drought in nearly four decades,” Williams said in a press release.

The complexities of modern oil production involve injection wells to shove different kinds of fluids down underground, and some wells pass through aquifers. (The state is currently investigating if and where drinking and irrigation water aquifers are among those, or, indeed, on the receiving end, including 11 wells in Santa Barbara County.) The fluids used include fracking fluids and steam, both used to loosen oil deposits so that they flow; acids, used to keep the well bore clear; and waste water, which comes up with the oil and is sent back down to both replace what’s been removed and dispose of the briny water. AB 356 broadens the groundwater monitoring requirement to include belowground oil production tanks and facilities, and also disposal and injection wells.

Elements in Williams’s bill mirror SB 4, requiring water quality measurements before and during drilling, making the water quality data part of the State Water Resources Control Board’s geotracking system, ensuring the zone is geologically able to contain the injected material, and requiring disclosure of the ingredients in the fluid or gas sent through the well bore. “The oil industry spent a significant amount of time and energy trying to weaken or kill that bill,” said Williams of SB 4’s disclosure requirement, “but were unsuccessful.” He added that the development of regulations for an EIR for enhanced oil recovery techniques are ongoing, and “they [the oil industry] are agitating for the weakest possible state regulations … We don’t know if industry will oppose AB 356, but they generally want less regulation as opposed to more.”

The bill has yet to go to committee, but Williams is hopeful it will follow SB 4’s track and be supported in the Legislature.

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