SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Environmental groups sought a freeze Wednesday on permits to dump oil field waste into the country's underground water reserves, alleging that lax federal oversight was threatening potential drinking water supplies.
Groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Water Action formally petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the moratorium. The agency would review the petition, said an EPA spokeswoman, Margot Perez-Sullivan.
The request follows news reports and federal and state investigations that detailed California's failures in enforcing laws meant to protect natural reserves of water that might one day be needed for drinking and irrigation.
Oil regulators in California, the country's third-biggest oil-producing state, acknowledged last year that they had allowed oil field waste to contaminate some federally protected drinking water supplies.
"In the face of increasing shortages and growing demand for clean water, we can't afford to continue trashing reserves we may well need in the years to come," Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Wednesday.
The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group, said its members were committed to protecting underground water supplies.
The environmental groups said they had found 4,679 instances nationwide in which the EPA has authorized oil field wastewater and other material to be injected into naturally occurring underground water supplies, which are otherwise off-limits to dumping.
Regulators are supposed to allow oil companies to inject only into water reserves, or aquifers, whose water is naturally too briny or otherwise unlikely to be used for drinking.
The environmental groups say regulators have been too loose in granting such permits. For example, two-thirds of permits approved by the federal agency lacked documentation on the original water quality of an underground source, the groups claimed.
Their petition asks the EPA to freeze new injection permits until the agency improves its documentation and oversight of such dumping.
Petitions like the one filed Wednesday typically require a federal agency to eventually say yes or no to the request and explain why.