News | December 17, 2015

Arroyo Grande Oil Field Neighbors Ask State For Personalized Maps

Inspired by Gov. Brown's Map Request, Price Canyon Residents Want Analysis of  Oil Company's Plan to Use Aquifer for Waste Disposal

More than a dozen people living near the Arroyo Grande Oil Field in San Luis Obispo County asked state oil officials today for personalized maps of drilling potential and water resources in their neighborhoods. Freeport-McMoRan plans to drill hundreds of new oil wells nearby, raising water-pollution concerns.

In today’s letter to state oil supervisor Kenneth Harris, residents of the Price Canyon area note that Harris’ agency recently fulfilled a similar request from Gov. Jerry Brown to research oil resources on the governor’s 2,700-acre ranch in Northern California. Within days the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources supplied the governor with a free 51-page historical report and geological assessment, as well as a personalized satellite-imaged geological and drilling map.

“Frankly, we are worried that plans to expand the Arroyo Grande Oil Field near our homes could contaminate the more than 100 water wells within a mile of these oil operations,” today’s letter from Price Canyon-area residents states. “The personalized maps you will supply to us will help us to assess the risks.”

The neighbors’ request comes as Freeport seeks an “aquifer exemption” that would allow the oil company to continue dumping oil waste fluid into the county’s underground water.

“My neighbors and I are greatly concerned about the adverse impacts, particularly on our aquifer, from the Arroyo Grande Oil Field near our homes,” said Ginger Lordus, who signed the letter to California officials and lives about two miles from the oil field. “We have many unanswered questions and do not feel confident that regulating agencies have our best interest in mind. We’re asking for these materials to assess the risks in order to maintain our property values, protect our health, and preserve our quality of life.”

“Gov. Brown got his free oil map within days, and state officials should move just as fast to help people living near Freeport’s risky oil operations,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Freeport wants to drill hundreds of new oil wells near these folks’ homes. The company even wants permission to continue using a local aquifer as a trash dump for oil waste. That’s outrageous, and residents deserve real answers from state officials about pollution threats to their water.”

Subject to approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the proposed aquifer exemption would allow Freeport’s injection wells to operate in federally protected groundwater, either for oil recovery or oil wastewater disposal. This is the first oil-industry attempt to seek an aquifer exemption following revelations earlier this year that California regulators have let oil companies dump waste into scores of protected underground water supplies (interactive map), in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

In a new analysis and comment letter delivered to state oil officials, the Center identified serious flaws in Freeport McMoRan’s aquifer exemption application:

  • Neither Freeport nor state officials have done a full hydrological analysis, pump tests or aquifer tests to demonstrate that oil waste disposal and other injection operations would be isolated from current and potential drinking water sources.
  • Freeport also failed to present a detailed analysis of the toxicity of the fluid it uses for steam injection or waste disposal.
  • Freeport has failed to present a detailed analysis of nearby water wells, despite repeated requests from neighbors, the Center and state oil officials.

Oil-industry wastewater can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. State oil officials’ own study of oil wastewater around the state has detected benzene levels at thousands of times the federal limits.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity