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State Hearing On Oil Waste Injections Into Aquifers Asks 'What Went Wrong?'

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio

Two senate committees water and the environment held a joint hearing Tuesday in Sacramento focusing on the potential contamination of federally protected aquifers by oil producers. 

The state's Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources had allowed production companies to inject oil field waste water into some aquifers that the EPA says could be used for drinking water. The revelation has resulted in the shutdown of 23 wells, slowing production in Kern County. 

Officials with the department say they had thought the injections were permissible under the Clean Drinking Water Act, but later discovered they were not.

Natural Resources Secretary John Laird blamed the situation on outdated record keeping and the lack of management direction. 

Laird: "The challenge that we have before us it the unwinding of actions based on flawed decision making and a lack of deference to basic management protocols that go back as far as 1983."

But Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson said part of the problem is what she described as the close relationship between state administrators and the oil industry. 

Jackson: "There has been a serious imbalance between the role of the oil and gas industry in this process and the role of protecting the public."

Laird testified that so far testing by the state water board hasn't uncovered any contamination in its supply wells.

Since the discovery of the permitting mistakes, the state stopped authorizing  new wells in non-exempt areas. But officials say that another 2000 wells already exist in areas that should have been protected under federal law. 

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of KVPR / Valley Public Radio. He has led the station through major programming changes, the launch of KVPR Classical and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his leadership the station was named California Non-Profit of the Year by Senator Melissa Hurtado (2019), and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting (2022).
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