Thursday, the Los Angeles Times published an article about a number of sumps – or ponds – that exist in oil production regions in the lower San Joaquin Valley.  It’s an important issue but certainly not the scandal portrayed in the Time’s inaccurate report.

The members of the Western States Petroleum Association are aware the Regional Water Quality Control Board is evaluating oilfield operations in the San Joaquin Valley in conjunction with the Board’s basin planning efforts, including the use of sumps, or ponds, to capture fluids used in the oil production process.  

This is an issue that was identified as needing attention as early as December of 2013 and has been on ongoing collaboration between the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, the petroleum industry and others since then.  WSPA members have been cooperating fully with this effort and are committed to working with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to ensure the region’s groundwater resources are fully protected.

Many of the sumps that have been identified by the Regional Water Quality Control Board are legacy ponds that are no longer being used.  Others are used only as secondary containment ponds – earthen barriers around oil production facilities – to prevent accidental or emergency releases of water from spreading.  Still others appear to be ponds that were built and have been in use since before permits were required.

Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Times got a number of important facts wrong in its recent coverage of this issue.  The Times incorrectly reported the sumps are used to capture or dispose of hydraulic fracturing fluids.  Regulations make it unlawful for oil producers in California to store or capture hydraulic fracturing fluids in unlined ponds.  The active sumps in question are used to capture, and in some cases dispose of, the large volumes of water that are withdrawn from the hydrocarbon zone beneath the production facility along with oil.

The Times also suggested this is a new issue for the State of California and oil producers.  It is not.  It has been discussed publicly on numerous occasions at meetings of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and been the subject of newspaper coverage in the past year.  There is nothing hidden or secretive about the collaborative efforts underway to identify any sumps that do not comply with state regulations and to either bring them into compliance or close them if still in use.

One thing the Times got right. It quoted an official with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board saying, “Initial testing of water wells has not revealed any tainted water.”