Toxic Stew

What’s in Fracking Wastewater

March 10, 2015

Toxic Stew: State Website Has Serious Flaws

Interpreting data on the website of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is difficult because the presentation is somewhat cumbersome. More importantly, there are many discrepancies and gaps. Although the website offers the most detailed look at chemicals in wastewater ever available, serious flaws remain in terms of making it a useful and fully transparent tool:

  • Discrepancies in sampling

    The new disclosure law requires reporting the composition and disposition ofall wastewater after a well is fracked, but there are significant discrepancies among reports from different drillers. It is unclear just what fluid must be sampled and analyzed after the well “treatment” has ended. Drillers report sampling fluids from different sources, including flowback water, formation water and produced water. Moreover, there is no clear definition of when a well treatment is considered to have ended (UC Davis, 2014).

  • Discrepancies in chemical analysis

    The validity and efficacy of the reported chemical analyses also varied from company to company. Aera Energy LLC reported the most comprehensive analyses, including all the required categories. Other companies reported much less comprehensive data. One, Breitburn Operating LP of Los Angeles, submitted 25 identical records for fracking jobs from June to August 2014, and the chemical analyses in those reports were dated in April. Some records did not identify sampling dates or include required information from the lab that did the analysis.

  • Missing records

    As of January 2015, there were 31 fracking jobs in 2014 that had been reported to but were not reflected on the state website. Chemical analysis reports were still pending for 116 jobs that took place from January to March 2014. No samples were collected for 51 reported fracking jobs.

In December 2014, EWG contacted the Division requesting an explanation of the discrepancies and missing records. The agency responded two months later. Officials acknowledged that the reporting directions given to drilling companies under the interim regulations were vague, that categories on the reporting forms were confusing and that companies were inconsistent in their reporting. They said, however, that by the summer of 2015 the requirements would be more specific and would be enforced.

“We are meeting regularly with operators in an attempt to get them to understand more completely the requirements and how to comply,” Oil & Gas Supervisor Dr. Steven Bohlen told EWG (personal communication, Bohlen, 2015). At an oversight hearing on Senate Bill 4, Bohlen acknowledged, “We do have a serious data management problem. Our problems are on the table, and I am not hiding them” (White, 2015).