Health Watchdog Launches First-Ever Prop 65 Action Aimed at Waste Water Pollution from Fracking

Legal action charges Seneca Resources Corporation with violation of Prop 65 drinking water protections

Oakland, CA-The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) today announced it has initiated legal action under the drinking water provisions of California’s Prop 65 law against Seneca Resources Corporation, for the company’s disposal of highly toxic fracking waste water into four wells near Lost Hills in Kern County that flow into a potential source of drinking water. State documents reviewed by CEH show that the Seneca waste water contains levels of naphthalene, benzene and ethylbenzene – all substances listed by the state as known to cause cancer and/or serious reproductive health problems – far in excess of Prop 65 safety standards. For example, some of the waste water injected into a potential source of drinking water by Seneca contains more than 2,000 times more benzene than allowed under Prop 65.

Under Prop 65, companies found in violation of the drinking water provisions by discharges of toxic chemicals into a source or potential source of drinking water must cease their polluting practices. “Toxic waste water from fracking must not be allowed to contaminate our precious drinking water supplies,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “While millions of Californians are responsibly meeting the state’s water-conserving rules, state regulators are recklessly allowing the oil and gas industry to continue polluting our water. Our action today sends a strong message that we will not stand by while the fracking industry puts our dwindling water resources at risk.”

Seneca is the exploration and development subsidiary of the National Fuel Gas Company, (NFG) a company with annual revenues of nearly $2 billion. In Pennsylvania last year, NFG was fined $250,000 for environmental violations at the company’s drilling sites. In 2013, Seneca was fined $377,000 by Pennsylvania regulators, more than any drilling company but one, for 59 violations over 3 years.

In California, state documents show that Halliburton supplied chemicals for use in Seneca’s fracking operations in Kern County. In fracking, companies pump massive amounts of water mixed with sand and laced with chemicals into fracked wells. After the wells are drilled, large amounts of this toxic water is returned to the surface and must be disposed of as waste water (also called “produced water”). California regulations require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals found in their waste water and their method of disposal.

According to state documents, at least two Seneca fracking wells produced large amounts of toxic waste water that the company disposes of in four injection wells at their Tisdale Disposal Facility in Kern County. State records show that the levels of the three Prop 65 chemicals naphthalene, benzene and ethylbenzene in the waste water from the two Seneca fracking wells are far in excess of Prop 65 standards: benzene was found at more than 2,000 times the state standard, naphthalene as high as 181 times the standard, and ethylbenzene as much as 20 times the standard. The Seneca injections continued at least into March 2015, the latest reporting period for which the state has records. The Tisdale facility is near Lost Hills; groundwater in this area is considered a potential drinking water source for nearby residents.

The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, a leading environmental justice non-profit with offices in Oakland and Kern County, has called for stronger regulations to protect front-line communities from fracking pollution. “The Central Valley has some of the most fracked communities in California who are also suffering from the effects of the drought,” says Juan Flores, Valley resident and Organizer at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Communities need to know what is being dumped in their aquifers to protect their drinking water. We believe people power will make the difference in this campaign against fracking.”

State agencies charged with protecting California’s dwindling water resources from the oil and gas industry’s polluted waste water have been plagued by recent revelations of their utter failure to regulate the industry. Last summer, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) admitted it allowed oil companies to inject waste water from fracking and other operations for years into hundreds of disposal wells in aquifers that were supposed to be protected sources of drinking water. Federal EPA officials call the state regulatory failures “shocking” and say the state waste water injection policies do not comply with the Clean Water Act. Despite these revelations, DOGGR continues to allow dumping in most of these aquifers.

For more information, see the following state documents:

Chemicals in waste water (“produced water”) from Seneca wells: “Citrus” well and “Truman” well

Spreadsheet showing “Tisdale Disposal Facility” as the location of the injection wells where Seneca disposed of the wastewater (“identification of all water” worksheet, column 548 and 668). Also note Halliburton is listed as the supplier of the chemical additives used by Seneca (“WST Fluid Information” worksheet, rows 20690 to 20724).

Also, see the following news reports: NFG fined $250,000 for violations in Pennsylvania and Seneca fined $377,000 in 2013

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is the leading national nonprofit committed to ending health threats from toxic chemicals in our air, water, food and in products we use every day. CEH protects children and families from harmful chemicals by working with communities, consumers, workers, and government to demand and support safer business practices. We also work with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. www.ceh.org

Founded in 1989, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) is an environmental justice organization that uses collective action and the law to support communities of color that bear the brunt of environmental hazards. With offices in California located in Delano and Oakland, CRPE represents communities and works directly with them to achieve their goals. For more on CRPE, go to www.crpe-ej.org.