State’s fracking wells have alarming levels of benzene

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Waste liquid from fracking operations contains levels of benzene that can be far higher than state and federal agencies consider safe, according to a new analysis.

That liquid – known as flowback fluid – is often reinjected into groundwater. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

The state passed a fracking law two years ago that requires oil companies to test wells for a variety of toxins. The L.A. Times used data from of the first year of those tests to conduct a review, and the findings are alarming.

The Times says benzene levels in the wells are hundreds of times higher on average than what is considered safe. Some wells had benzene levels that were thousands of times higher. In all, 98 percent of waste water samples taken from fracked wells had benzene levels that exceeded state and federal guidelines.

Meanwhile, the state’s top regulator for the oil industry says he lacks the necessary information to adequately safeguard the state’s aquifers.

flowbackDuring a state Senate hearing yesterday, Dr. Steven Bohlen said his agency suffers from a “serious data management problem” as it tries to ensure that drilling operations are not tainting wells used for drinking water.

The hearing followed revelations that oil companies were allowed to inject wastewater from fracking into federally protected aquifers, which has spurred harsh criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bohlen, the head of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, has pledged to get back in compliance and to set up a timeline to close some wells.