The renewal of a conditional-use permit for two oil wells in unincorporated Livermore has been gaining opposition for more than year with opponents claiming the re-injection of water back into the ground to increase oil production threatens the local aquifer and increases the likelihood of seismic activity in the region.
The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments approved the permit extension, 2-0, on May 24. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon will hear an appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity and Livermore Eco Watchdog seeking to deny the permit.
E&B Natural Resources has been producing oil on the rural property at 8467 Patterson Pass Road since 1967. The property is east of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The groups have long maintained E&B Natural Resource’s use of waterflooding is a detriment to the local environment. But many of their claims have been rejected by various state regulatory bodies, said Chris Bazar, director of the Alameda County Community Development Agency.
Calls for an additional environmental review of the project are also unnecessary under state law, he said, since E&B Natural Resources is not seeking any changes to its current operation.
The state Department of Conservation, Division of Oil and Gas (DOGGR) has technical expertise in the disposal of processed waterflooding, Bazar added, and the agency previously determined the risk to aquifers in east county is not supported by the appellant’s concerns. Bazar is recommending the Board of Supervisors deny the appeal.
“Ideally no injection would take place in this area where little is known about aquifer connectivity, water quality at various depths, or potential for increased production,” said Jean E. Moran, Cal State East Bay environmental science professor
The use of waterflooding is not the same as fracking. Instead, oil producers inject water into existing wells in order to increase ground pressure, and therefore, coax additional oil out of the ground. Fracking, which the Alameda County Board of Supervisors banned in 2016, injects high pressures of water and other chemicals into the ground in order to “fracture” rock formations and extract oil deposits.
Donna Cabanne, a member of the Sierra Club’s Tri-Valey Executive Committee said re-injection of watery, oil byproducts back into the ground also increases the likelihood of increased seismic activity and seepage into aquifers. In addition, waste water for waterflooding can include high levels of chemicals like benzene and boron.
However, exactly what E&B Natural Resources uses as waste water is unknown to the public, since the company has not disclosed what is in the water they re-inject into the ground. The uncertainty to Livermore’s ground water supply will also impact its burgeoning wine industry, said Cabanne.
Since 2007, there have been 48 accidents at E&B Natural Resource’s property, the groups claim. The county successfully sued E&B for an oil leak in 2015, winning a stipulated judgment of $85,000 in fines. The company was fined by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in 2014. It was also ordered to pay $200,000 for clean up of a nearby property.
Jean E. Moran, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Cal State East Bay reiterates the Sierra Club’s objections. “Ideally no injection would take place in this area where little is known about aquifer connectivity, water quality at various depths, or potential for increased production.”
Furthermore, said Moran, the area’s water supply is already highly dependent on water imported through the state’s water project and future allocations are not certain. Moran also questions whether the output of roughly 30 barrels a day of oil produced by the well is a worthy trade-off during a time when the burning of hydrocarbons are adding to global warming.
Amy Roth, vice president of regulatory affairs for E&B Natural Resources, in a letter to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, argues the appellant’s claims have repeatedly been refuted by regulatory agencies and have now resorted to labeling the company a “bad operator” in order to deny the conditional-use permit.
“The appeal by E&B’s opponents, who consistently oppose any and all petroleum production and use anywhere, continue to recycle many of the same discredited arguments previously presented to the county, all of which have been shown to be incorrect, misleading, and inapplicable or grossly exaggerated,” Roth wrote.
Assertions by the appellants that elevated seismic activity follows the use of fracking in Oklahoma are false since they seek to compare different “environmental settings.”
“E&B does not engage in fracking at the site and injection induced seismicity has never been a concern in California,” she continued.
The waterflooding issues at Tuesday afternoon’s planning meeting will likely put the spotlight on east county’s two board representatives, Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley.
Earlier this month, environmental concerns were highlighted over the extension of a moratorium on the importation of contaminated soil into Alameda County agricultural areas in east county. Haggerty reacted incredulously when Miley twice sought to allow the moratorium to expire during the meeting before settling for a 60-day extension.