California agency misses deadline on reporting oil-industry water use

State agency says it can't handle the massive amount of data now required on water use by oil producers

The state's oil and gas agency has missed the deadline for reporting on the use of water by oil producers in California, saying that the large volume of information required could not be processed in time.

The California Department of Conservation failed to meet an April 30 deadline for making public a broad range of information regarding the source, volume and disposal of water used in oil and gas production.

The agency said the law passed last year requiring the information had vastly increased the data the state is required to collect from oil companies. Regulators are now required to track 200 billion data elements, officials said, far exceeding the antiquated data management capacity of the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The next quarterly reporting deadline is July 31, but officials could not say when the agency will submit the information.

The information came in a letter this week from Department of Conservation Director Mark Nechodom to Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), who wrote the legislation. Nechodom blamed the reporting failure on "unforeseeable personnel and technical challenges."

Pavley had requested an explanation as to why the agency missed the deadline. She responded Wednesday by chiding the agency, saying that it had ample notice of the requirements and that agency staff never raised concerns about meeting the reporting target.

"The department's failure to comply with the law is another example of poor management and lax regulation of the oil and gas industry that has implications for California's economy and the public health," Pavley said. "The public — during a serious drought — needs to know where this water comes from and where it's going."

The law is meant to allow state officials to track the water used in oil and gas production more closely. Up to 19 gallons of water may be pumped out of the ground for every gallon of oil.

Previously, the state gathered 40 data points regarding water use at each oil well, Nechodom said in the letter, but the new law expanded that collection to 400 data points.

Companies are required to report the volume of water they use, where it comes from and where it goes. Water intended for storage or sale must be accounted for with full information about how it is treated or cleaned, who receives it and how the water will be used.

California's oil and gas regulators have come under increasined scrutiny for what some lawmakers say is a failure to protect the state's clean water from being tainted by oil field wastewater.

Officials admitted that for years oil companies have been allowed to inject wastewater — from fracking and other oil production operations — into more than 2,000 wells in protected aquifers, a violation of federal law.

So far, testing of a dozen water supply wells in Kern County has not shown any wastewater in the drinking supply, officials said.

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