Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the state of California Thursday, demanding that the state stop allowing the oil industry to inject wastewater into protected, clean aquifers.
The suit comes as California is entering its fourth year of severe drought, with residents being ordered to cut back on water use, while towns, cities and the state's vast agricultural industry are already feeling the consequences.
RELATED: teleSUR Agenda, California Drought Crisis
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity after the San Fransisco Chronicle revealed last month that oil companies have for years been pumping waste water from their operations into clean water aquifers, with explicit permission from state regulators.
The Chronicle found that the state had allowed these companies to drill more than 170 waste disposal wells into aquifers that were fit for drinking water or irrigation use.
The lawsuit demands that the state stop validating the creation of these waste-disposal wells and that the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources be forced to immediately stop the continued injection of wastewater, on the grounds that it violates the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“Everyone agrees they are illegally operating injection wells,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Hollin Kretzmann told ThinkProgress. “The Safe Drinking Water Act is clear and prohibits this type of activity.”
According to environmental studies, wastewater from oil and gas activities can contain heavy metals, radioactive materials, and chemicals like arsenic and benzene.
Though the creation of wastewater wells in underground aquifers is not a new practice, it has been found that “structural failures inside injection wells are routine,” according to investigations by ProPublica.
The state officials responsible for allowing wastewater injections denies that they pose a risk, or that they have been improperly permitted.