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Just in Time for the Drought!

Are California’s Aquifers Poisoned?

by ROBERT HUNZIKER

The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources temporarily shut down as of July 18lth, several oil and gas wastewater injection wells over concerns about contamination of the state’s aquifers.

That fact alone leads to one inescapable conclusion: Will humanity ever break away from the darkness of Dick Cheney (the subtext to this article)?

As it happened, because of Darth Vader Cheney’s tricky maneuvers a decade ago whilst serving as VP of the United States of America, today the “Halliburton Loophole” is haunting California’s tenuous water situation.

The Halliburton Loophole is a reference to the 2005 Federal Energy Bill, which stripped the EPA of its authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, invented by Halliburton, where Dick “Boom Boom” Cheney served as CEO before he became W’s “guide dog.”

Professor Milton (Mr. Abolish Government Regulations) Friedman would be proud.

Obviously, the consequences of the Great Loophole, exempting frackers from the Clean Water Act, extend far and wide, from shore-to-shore. Who else has exemption from the Clean Water Act?

As for one of many hideous consequences of the Cheney/Bush slashing of governmental regulations whenever, and wherever, possible (a throw back to the original “virile man mentality”), the State of California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has shut down wastewater injection wells for seven energy companies over concerns about water contamination of aquifers.

Just in time for the drought!

Here’s a big part of the issue: It is highly probable that California’s incipient fracking boom would have been under the purview of the EPA long before now if Mr. Boom Boom aka: Bam Bam had not shut out the EPA from regulating fracking. Consequently, this article would not be necessary.

Such is not the case and now, according to California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources: Injecting wastewater in certain wells “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” However, the wording of that statement by the “Division” seems way too soft if only because it’s such a worn-out admonition.

But, back to the origin of the story, allegedly, somebody is polluting California’s aquifers, and that “somebody” appears to be oil & gas fracking, but the matter is still under investigation. So, nobody really knows for sure just yet, but the big pointy finger is gravitating in the direction of drilling fluids.

As a consequence and after thinking about it for only a split second: If the perpetrator is not shackled, padlocked, and pilloried in public, then the people in the state of California need to slit their collective wrists and get over it once and for all, assuming, it is proven that fracking fluids are polluting the state’s drinking water aquifers. Listen up!!! The state of California is damn near out of water for urinals!

Even the remotest reality that drillers of difficult-to-access deeply embedded dirty, filthy, bottom-of-the-barrel oil and gas resources are disposing of their raunchy waste in aquifers for drinking water and crop irrigation, should bring massive public outrage. Somebody’s to blame… repeating, somebody’s to blame. Fracking waste fluid does not walk over to an aquifer and jump into the water on its own.

Angry citizens should become vigilantes and form groups to track down the guilty parties and deal with them in the streets. Forget the tired-out court system where it takes years for justice. People should handle it the old-fashioned way based upon the western frontier movement, public hangings, vigilante justice. Forget the polite etiquette of the court system. That does not measure up to the task at hand, which may ultimately result in dragging bodies through the streets.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell: Over the years, oil and gas drillers have had carte blanche access to at least 100 of the state’s aquifers, which aquifers were presumed, by the state of California, to be useless because of poor water quality and/or depth of the water, too deep, too costly to drill (editorial: Except for when water is running out, like now.) These “useless” underground pools of water have served as a dumping ground for oil and gas drilling wastes, probably toxic, almost assuredly, and not suitable for drinking or for irrigation. As it happens, those aquifers are “exempt” from regulations by state water authorities (remember, Bam Bam exempted the federal EPA from interfering in these matters.)

However, all of a sudden, out of the blue, Mr. Ed Wilson, spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation, enters the scenario, stating, “The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued (i.e., stopping the oil and gas companies from using them) are not exempt,” meaning the aquifers are most likely good quality drinking water aquifers mistakenly, or not, used as a dumping ground for oil and gas toxic waste fluids.

Mr. Wilson referenced eleven oil and gas waste injection sites that have been temporarily closed as the state reviews another 100 sites, which sounds ominous, but at least they’re doing their job, maybe. The concern, the fear, the holding-of-one’s-breath, the extremely tight crossing-of-one-leg-over-the-other depends upon whether the oil and gas companies may have pumped fracking fluids and/or other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers in California’s Central Valley. Of course, as bad luck would have it, California’s Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural paradises in the whole world, providing America with about 50% of its fruit, nuts, and vegetables. Talk about a story with “legs.”

Alas, the most pregnant question is: How did this egregious abuse of the public trust even get to this point?

Well, if not for Mr. Boom, Boom aka: Bam, Bam’s slick maneuvers whilst serving in Washington, D.C. as VP for all Americans, oil field waste disposal would have been monitored much closer, much more thoroughly. But, his devious machinations, i.e. stacking the deck in favor of frackers in the Energy Act of 2005 (pushed real hard by Cheney/Bush), foisted one of the nation’s most critical jobs onto ill-prepared, understaffed, ill-defined, and underfunded state authorities. Nice move guys, real nice move!

Over time, that move by Bam Bam on the domestic front may make Iraq on the international front look like kid’s play, although no disrespect meant to the thousands who lost their lives in the Cheney/Bush useless, mean-spirited adventure across barren desert. It was impossible not to defeat Saddam!

Once again, here’s what Mr. Ed Wilson said, “The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt,” meaning, the aquifers under investigation are not meant to be receptacles of oil and gas toxic waste because they’re most likely drinking water aquifers also used to irrigate crops. Occasionally, it helps to restate the obvious.

Even though, “We do not have any evidence any drinking water has been affected,’ wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica,” Abraham Lustgarten, California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste, Warming it May be Contaminating Aquifers, ProPublica, July 18, 2014.

The issue is still under investigation, but how did the state discover the issue?

According to California’s fracking law passed in 2013 (Really? It took that long? After all, Cheney shifted the responsibility to the states 10 years ago), the state is required to study the impact of fracking. As it goes, state regulators allegedly discovered the alleged infractions.

California isn’t the First Rodeo for Fracking’s Infringement of Water Resources

In Pennsylvania: “Robert Jackson, a chemical engineer at Duke University, found methane in 115 of 141 shallow, residential drinking-water wells. The methane concentration in homes less than one mile from a fracking well was six times higher than the concentration in homes farther away. Isotopes and traces of ethane in the methane indicated that the gas was not created by microorganisms living in groundwater but by heat and pressure thousands of feet down in the Marcellus Shale, which is where companies fracture rock to release gas that rises up a well shaft,” Mark Fischetti, Groundwater Contamination May End the Gas-Fracking Boom, Scientific American, Vol 309, Issue 3, Aug. 20, 2013.

What to do?

All in all, California is referred to as the “left coast.” Yes, it is, and thus, one would expect the state to embrace all kinds of renewable energy sources, like wind, solar, geothermal, waves, and yes, California does have a lot of renewable energy, over 20% of the state’s electricity comes from hydro, solar, geothermal, and biomass. It is, after all, a left-leaning state, thus the risks that Californian politics will block renewables pales in comparison to the US Congress, where the word “renewables” itself is toxic.

California has legislated a Renewables Portfolio Standard, as follows:

2002: Senate Bill 1078 establishes the RPS program, requiring 20% of retail sales from renewable energy by 2017.
2003: Energy Action Plan I accelerated the 20% deadline to 2010.
2005: Energy Action Plan II recommends a further goal of 33% by 2020.
2006: Senate Bill 107 codified the accelerated 20% by 2010 deadline into law.
2008: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-14-08 requiring 33% renewables by 2020.
2009: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-21-09 directing the California Air Resources Board, under its AB 32 authority, to adopt regulations by July 31, 2010, consistent with the 33% renewable energy target established in Executive Order S-14-08.
2011: Senate Bill X1-2, signed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., codifies 33% by 2020.

Where’s the federal government’s “renewables portfolio standard”?

Has the federal government even considered a renewables portfolio standard?

As things stand, the state of California is the home to 60,000 oil and gas wells, and Governor Brown supports fracking. In 2012 California produced nearly 10% of the nation’s total oil production (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.) Fracking will take that figure up considerably, assuming the citizens of the state don’t chain themselves to the drilling equipment if, and only if, toxic fracking fluids are not confirmed in California’s drinking water aquifers. Stay tuned!

But, however, and furthermore…this recent indecent incident, whether eventually found to be factual or not, tells a tale, a sad tale of insensitivity and stupidity all the way up to the top, of how America’s flirtation with the rawest elements of neoliberal capitalism has transformed an entire country into a loathsome basket case that is tainted by nauseating political favoritism and distasteful, repugnant, stomach-turning individuals who live for personal ego and power, measured, as far as they care, by the putrid odor of money that is rotten to the core. That is not nation building; repeating, that is not nation building; it is self-aggrandizement, self-serving exploitation at its shameless, detestable worst.

America’s Top Teapot Dome Scandals –coming your way this fall.

Postscript: “Politics have no relations to morals,” Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, and writer, 1469-1527.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com.