Skip to main content

The oil industry in California has constantly claimed that fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for oil and natural gas is "safe" and doesn't harm the environment.

"An honest appraisal of the science and common sense around hydraulic fracturing leads to a conclusion the technology we’ve used without harm in California for 60 plus years is safe and its benefits a blessing," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), earlier this year.

"Oil drilling activities in California are strictly regulated by several agencies and the state’s oil producers are working closely with the government to develop even stronger protections to ensure the vast potential of the Monterey Shale can be realized," she claimed. (

However, Reheis-Boyd fails to mention that the discharge of fracking fluid, composed of toxic chemicals that the oil industry refuses to disclose because they consider them a trade secret, presents an enormous threat to groundwater supplies, streams, fish and wildlife.

In the most recent example of the threat to the environment and human health that fracking poses, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board on November 15 ordered an oil company, Vintage Production California LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, to pay a $60,000 penalty for discharging hydraulic fracturing fluid into an unlined sump in violation of the California Water Code.

The penalty is the result of a settlement agreement between Vintage and the Water Board's prosecution team, and is the maximum penalty allowable under the state Water Code.

"The prosecution team’s investigation determined that Vintage periodically discharged saline water, formation fluids, and hydraulic fracturing fluid to an unlined sump for 12 days," according to a Water Board news release. "The sump was next to a newly drilled Vintage oil well near the City of Shafter in Kern County. The prosecution team concluded the discharge posed a threat to groundwater quality and that Vintage violated the Water Code for the unpermitted discharge of wastewater to land."

The investigation that led to the settlement began immediately after a YouTube video at was brought to the prosecution team’s attention.

The team issued an investigative order under Water Code Section 13267 that required Vintage to provide a technical report with specific details about the operation of the well and the discharges to the sump.

After reviewing the submitted technical information, the prosecution team issued a Notice of Violation to Vintage for the discharge of fluids to the sump for 12 days (September 30 through October 11, 2012) in violation of General Waiver Resolution R5-2008-0192 and Water Code Section 13350, according to the Water Board.

“The discharge of high-salinity water to unlined sumps in areas with good quality groundwater, such as at the Vintage Production site near Shafter, is not consistent with the Tulare Lake Basin Plan,” said Central Valley Water Board Executive Officer Pamela Creedon. “We are concerned that similar discharges may have occurred elsewhere throughout the Central Valley."

"Past and future drilling operations will be evaluated to ensure that operators are in compliance with Basin Plan policy. Additionally, we are presently revising General Waiver Resolution R5-2008-0192 to more specifically address oil field drilling fluid discharges to unlined sumps located in the Central Valley," she stated.

Creedon said Vintage agreed to cease discharging to unlined sumps in agricultural areas - and the company is "voluntarily investigating" the leaching potential of the solidified material in the closed sump.

Opponents of fracking and the peripheral tunnels point out that incidents like this one will become increasing common as oil companies ramp up fracking and acidizing operations to extract oil from Monterey Shale deposits in the Central Valley and coastal areas. On September 20, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4, legislation that gives the green light to the expansion of fracking operations in California.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), a group opposed to Governor Brown's peripheral tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries, asked, "If Kern County ruins its ground water supply fracking, how much more water are they going to expect from the Delta?"

Anti-fracking activists emphasize that the $60,000 fine is just chump change for a big oil company like Occidental. The Los Angeles-based company said earnings in the third quarter of 2013 jumped more than 14% as domestic oil production increased and gas prices rose, according to the LA Times.

"The company reported a profit of $1.58 billion, or $1.96 a share, in the three months ended Sept. 30," the LA Times reported. "That was compared to $1.38 billion, or $1.69 a share, from the same quarter a year earlier. Sales jumped 8.1% to $6.45 billion." (

The oil industry, represented by the Western States Petroleum Association, is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento. Big Oil wields huge influence over the Legislature, Governor's Office and state agencies through lobbying, campaign contributions and domination of regulatory processes, such as Reheis-Boyd's chairing of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California.

Chevron, the Western States Petroleum Association and Aera Energy LLC spent the most money of any organizations or companies lobbying legislators in the third quarter of 2013, according to California Secretary of State documents.

Chevron spent $1,696,477, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent $1,269,478 and Aera Energy LLC spent $1,015,534. That’s a total of $3,981,489 just between July 1 and September 30, 2013. In the first three quarters of 2013, WSPA alone spent a total of $3,578,266 on lobbying legislators. (

Before the release of third quarter lobbying expenditures, a report released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby has spent $45.4 million in the state influencing legislators since 2009. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009. (

Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, "an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians."

The draft Settlement Agreement and Stipulation for Entry of Administrative Civil Liability Order R5-2013-0587 (Stipulated Order) is available for a 30-day public review and comment period prior to consideration by the Central Valley Water Board. The Stipulated Order is at:

Originally posted to Dan Bacher on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 09:01 AM PST.

Also republished by Central Valley Kossacks.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site