CA Oil Field Leak under Review

Monday, November 30, 2015 @ 03:11 PM gHale

A hazardous chemical leak at an oil field in Livermore, CA, may have contaminated an underground aquifer used for drinking water, according to inspection reports.

E&B Natural Resources, which operates the oil field, failed to quickly notify state and local regulators of the leak, despite legal obligations to report it immediately.

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“The leak was not reported to us,” said Susan Hugo, the head of the Hazardous Materials Division at Alameda County’s Department of Environmental Health in a report with the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

Records show E&B discovered the leak at the end of March while removing an unused oil tank. Now, more than seven months later, local and state officials are still waiting on test results to determine whether people might be at risk because of contaminated water supplies.

Hugo and her team of 15 inspectors are in charge of ensuring everyone follows proper safety measures and protocols at Alameda County companies that work with hazardous materials, including the E&B oil field in Livermore. Inspectors only check above ground oil tanks once every three years, so it took complaints from a neighboring business for county inspectors to learn about the leak at the Livermore oil field, Hugo said.

According to documents E&B submitted to the county, the oil company started testing soil samples from the leak on March 30. However, other documents obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit show E&B Natural Resources reported “the release was discovered in April.”

The Alameda County Environmental Health Department inspected the site in May and issued a report in June. The agency cited the oil company for more than a dozen violations, including improperly disposing of hazardous waste and failing to immediately notify state and local agencies about the release of hazardous material.

Since 2010, state records show E&B reported 13 spills in four different California counties. In the past three months, oil companies across California have reported 18 oil spills to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services – two of those spills occurred at E&B oil fields.

As of Nov. 20, crews were still removing contaminated soil at the site of the leak.

Alameda County officials are now requiring E&B to assess all of the wells within a 2,000-foot radius of the leak to find out how many people could potentially end up feeling the impact. The California Department of Water Resources estimates about 400 wells are in the area, but couldn’t tell the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit how many people rely on that water. Most, if not all, are private wells, which means the water does not end up treated for possible contaminants before anyone uses it for drinking or farming.

In October, Alameda County approved a plan that would require the oil company to pay for groundwater testing. Those results aren’t due to the company until Dec. 21. By then, eight months will have passed since E&B said it first discovered the leak of hazardous chemicals.

E&B Natural Resources produces approximately 11,500 barrels of oil per day at its more than 25 oil and gas fields in California, Louisiana, Kansas and Wyoming, according to the company’s website.

The company refers to itself as “one of California’s largest privately owned oil and gas companies,” that is “a recognized leader within the exploration and production industry.”

In a written statement, the company said it believes the leak in Livermore happened years ago, before it ever bought the oil field.

“In late March 2015, when E&B Natural Resources removed an unused storage tank, we discovered oil-stained soil underneath the unused tank. E&B has never used the tank,” the statement said. “Any leak occurred prior to E&B’s acquisition of the facility in 2006. The company takes full responsibility for cleaning-up the affected soil in a voluntary remediation agreement with the County.”