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California Closes 33 More Injection Wells

Following through on new regulations designed to bring the state into compliance with federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, California oil and natural gas regulators on Thursday permanently closed 33 underground injection wells.

Under new leadership in the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), California has been scrambling all year to satisfy the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements and has closed a number of injection wells that fell short of the federal standards (see Daily GPI, July 21).

“Both regulators and producers are committed to protecting underground water supplies, and today’s announcement reinforces the seriousness of that commitment,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). “California’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to operating their wells in a manner that continues to safeguard public water supplies.”

WSPA listed five key points related to the closed wells:

  • All of the wells were permitted by the state;
  • Many of the wells were already inactive;
  • None of the wells were injecting into public water supplies or identified as potentially impacting public water supplies;
  • The number of closed wells represents a tiny fraction of the total universe of injection wells in California (roughly 0.1%); and
  • In its ongoing review, the state Water Resources Control Board has found no evidence that public water supplies have been impacted by any injection wells.

DOGGR said the latest closed wells were drilled into geological formations that had not been exempted for waste injection activity by EPA, that do not naturally contain oil reservoirs, and that have natural water quality of less than 3,000 mg/liter of total dissolved solids. Steve Bohlen, who heads DOGGR, said the state effort is to make sure groundwater resources are protected.

"The regulations are working," Bohlen said. "We're on track to do what we set out to do in establishing an aggressive compliance schedule with the U.S. EPA and state water control board."

Of the 33 closed wells, Bohlen said that 21 were actively injecting. All but two are scattered across oilfields in Kern County; one is in the Sespe field in Ventura County, and another in the Newhall field in northern Los Angeles County.

"There should not be a significant impact to production as a result of these injection wells coming offline," Bohlen said.

WSPA officials said that injection wells are "an integral part" of oil/gas production and have been used for decades in the state to increase oil recovery and safely dispose of water produced along with oil and gas.

Thursday's closings are part of a statewide DOGGR and water board effort to evaluate all of the state's 50,000 injection wells. It was initiated after it was found that some injection was occurring in zones that had not been exempted by EPA.

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