News Feature | February 25, 2015

Produced Water Has High Benzene Levels, Report Says

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

rig

Two years ago, the state of California ordered oil companies to test fracking wastewater for harmful chemicals. The results are in. 

A key finding from this research is that fracking wastewater contains high levels of benzene. 

"Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called 'flowback fluid.' In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe," the Los Angeles Times reported

The Times studied the data to see how significant the harm might be.

"The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Times analysis of the state data," the report said.

The results are concerning because California regulators have—very controversially—allowed fracking companies to reinject produced water into drinking water aquifers. 

"State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation. Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA," NBC Bay Area reported last year. 

The EPA called the revelation "shocking." 

"The agency's regional director said that California's oil field waste water injection program has been mismanaged and does not comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act," the Times reported. 

According to the pro-fracking industry group Energy from Shale, fracking is safe.

"Hydraulic fracturing is safe and well-regulated by federal and state agencies. The technologies and processes continue to be improved, guided by industry standards developed from experiences in the field and which undergo rigorous review before adoption," the group says

For more oil and gas news, check out Water Online's Produced Water Solution Center

Image credit: "Rig," Nicholas A. Tonelli © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/