News Feature | June 6, 2017

California Farmer Blames Fracking For Water Quality Issues

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A farmer in California claims fracking wastewater injected into the ground is tainting the environment and harming his crops.

Farmer Mike Hopkins is waging a legal battle over the issue.

“The problem began about eight years ago when the leaves of his newly planted cherry orchard started turning brown, Hopkins said. Soon the almond trees followed,” CBS News reported.

“Hopkins eventually ripped out 3,500 dying trees,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Water tests helped clarify the origin of the problem, Hopkins alleged, per CBS News.

"It had more contaminants in it, chlorides, boron, not at toxic levels, but levels that were harmful to the trees," Hopkins said.

Hopkins is suing the oil company over the alleged problem.

“According to the lawsuit, abandoned injection wells reach into the same area deep underground where dozens of other active wells are injecting wastewater. When pressure builds in the injection zone the wastewater can push up through an abandoned well if it's not properly sealed and leak into the freshwater zone above it,” the report said.

Regulators told Hopkins that “the wastewater injection well right across the street from his farm couldn't be to blame, because it was abandoned years ago,” the report said. But experts say abandoned wells can still cause problems.

Jonathan Bishop, the California Water Resources Control Board chief deputy director, told CBS News: “There is a theoretical potential that an abandoned well that perforates down into the oilfield might have some cross connection with a water zone.”

Here is how industry stakeholders responded to CBS News:

In an email to CBS San Francisco, one of the oil companies involved, San Joaquin Facilities Management, blamed the drought and Big Ag irrigation practices for the problem: "There is no evidence that San Joaquin's injected water escaped the zone into which it was injected." Three other oil companies said they can't comment because of pending litigation.

The energy industry argues that fracking is not dangerous to the water supply and that it is a job-creator and economic engine for the country.

“Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are safely unlocking vast U.S. reserves of oil and natural gas found in shale and other tight-rock formations. Developing energy from shale is an advanced process that uses the latest drilling technologies and equipment. As for what fracking means to the United States — the answers, are security, economic growth and jobs, jobs, jobs,” according to the American Petroleum Institute, an energy industry trade group.

To read more about water quality and fracking visit Water Online’s Produced Water Treatment Solutions Center.