California withholds findings on oil field contamination

Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press

California oil-and-gas regulators have refused for nearly a year to release findings of what they termed a "highest-priority" investigation of possible oil field contamination into the water aquifers that serve millions of people in and around L.A.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California oil and gas regulators have refused for nearly a year to release findings of what they termed a "highest-priority" investigation of possible oil field contamination into the water aquifers that serve millions of people in and around Los Angeles.

Concerns about the safety of oil field injection wells in the region are among many dogging state oil and gasregulators.

California is under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do more to protect drinking-water aquifers from contamination by the oil and gas industry. California is the country's No. 3 oil-producing state.

Home to more than 18 million people, the Los Angeles basin is also the scene of a more than century-old oil industry that peaked in the 1930s but continues today.

A separate, state-commissioned report by the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory this month on the safety of the process known as fracking noted that a half-million Los Angeles-area residents live, work or go to school within a mile of an oil well that is being created by the intensive method of hydraulic fracturing.

The state's main oilfield regulating office, the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, notified the U.S. EPA last year that it had reviewed the safety of more than 2,000 injection wells pumping oil field wastewater and other material into water aquifers in and around the Los Angeles area.

Specifically, state oil and gas regulators said they looked at whether regulators currently and in the 1930s and 1940s properly evaluated any risk of contamination from oil field injection wells. Inspectors examined whether old and recent injection wells could be leaking contaminating fluids into drinking-water reserves, oilfield inspectors wrote.

The state completed its draft report on that investigation by August, the state told the EPA in a letter that month.

The next month, however, California oilfield regulators refused an Associated Press request for the findings on the safety review of the Los Angeles-area oil field injection wells.

At the time, spokesman Ed Wilson wrote to the AP that the results of the state's investigation into the Los Angeles-area oil field injection wells "is expected to inform policy deliberations upon its completion." The state would release the findings only in a joint report with the policy recommendations, Wilson said.

On Thursday, 10 months later, state oil and gas supervisor Steve Bohlen said the state now expected to release the findings within weeks.

The analysis "will inform the public process on new regulations governing underground injection, and will be fully available to the public when it is complete," Bohlen said.

An environmental group called for immediate release of the findings.

"State oil officials need to come clean about this dirty threat to L.A.'s water supplies," Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

"It makes no sense to sit on information that's so vital to the public health," Kretzmann said. "The results should be made public immediately."

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