A joint investigation by ProPublica and The Desert Sun shows that California state regulators have allowed over two dozen inland oil spills—“surface expressions” caused by fracking—to occur despite a ban on the practice in 2019. Despite being fined by regulators, oil companies continue to profit from oil that is refined, sold, and shipped around the country, while toxic fumes, deadly temperatures, and wastewater make sites dangerous for workers and local habitats. Janet Wilson and Lylla Younes report that some slower-seeping spills, exempted by state regulators, have spilled “a combined 20 million gallons of oil, worth more than $19 million.”
Agencies like the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) oversee the petroleum industry, and exemptions have made it possible for oil companies to continue to repeat the same damaging procedures time and time again. Though steps were taken in 2019 to describe the process oil companies must complete to fix spills, “there are no deadlines for stopping them and restoring the sites,” according to Wilson and Younes’ report. The most recent available report done by CalGEM states that the injection volumes for “water disposal, steam flood, and cyclic steam operations” all increased in 2018, continuing environmental damage (California Department of Conservation, California Geologic Energy Management Division, “2018 Report of California Oil and Gas Production Statistics”, October 1, 2019).
Wilson and Younes write that these spills “typically draw little attention, unlike major marine events that garner national headlines.” The topic has received limited corporate news coverage. Some articles have reported on the state’s plan to crack down on the oil spills; an AP article highlighted criticism against California governor Gavin Newsom for aiming to end hydraulic fracking by 2024 as “too late.” Recently, the Los Angeles Times published a piece focused on a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, against California Governor Gavin Newsom, citing “reckless disregard for public health and safety.” Environmentalists have continued to criticize the actions of the state and companies involved in these illegal actions as it continues to prevail as a major threat to the planet.
Source: Janet Wilson and Lylla Younes, “Oil Companies Are Profiting From Illegal Spills. And California Lets Them,” ProPublica (copublished with The Desert Sun), September 18, 2020, https://www.propublica.org/article/oil-companies-are-profiting-from-illegal-spills-and-california-lets-them.
Student Researchers: Adriana Salgado, Cynthia Penaloza, and McKenzie Lookebill (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)
Faculty Evaluator: Helen K. Ho (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)