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Stuff Happens

Clean water for drinking and ag use is surely a good thing. Three oil companies want to vastly increase drilling between Santa Maria and Los Alamos. If they have their way, hundreds of new wells would be drilled right through the groundwater basin that provides water for tens of thousands of people. If our water is contaminated, what the heck. Most of their shareholders live out-of-state anyway.

Now let’s consider something the oil companies don’t like to talk about — breaches of well casings. These wells would go down directly through the aquifer, our drinking water, to reach the oil below. They tell us that there are layers of clay that act as impermeable barriers protecting our water. And barriers, static and dynamic, are put in place to prevent blowouts and the potential release of oil. However, operator error, mechanical failure, and equipment malfunction occurs.

A blowout could happen anywhere along the route of the well casing, including where it passes through our drinking water. A recent independent study of over 3,000 wells put the well failure rate at over 7 percent. Aera proposes to use an extreme extraction technique employing high pressure steam at temperatures of over 500 degrees. This could result in even higher rates of casing failure.

Beyond this problem, one of these companies, Aera Energy, assumes there would be one spill per year for every 130 of its wells in this area between Santa Maria and Los Alamos. This alone would amount to spills each year of over one-half million gallons. In addition to oil spills, more millions of gallons of other toxic and cancer-causing liquids from oil drilling operations always accidentally or unintentionally make their way into the ground and percolate down.

Over the long life of a well, whether active, idle or abandoned, it is very likely to experience a breach. The profit would all go to the shareholders while we would take the risk of losing our drinking water.

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