Cat Canyon Aquifer Exemption – Protecting Drinking Water & Stopping Onshore Oil

  • Goal: Protecting water used for drinking and agriculture in underserved communities of northern Santa Barbara County from oil companies’ injection of hot steam and toxic wastewater, while preventing the expansion of extreme oil production
  • Clients: Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, SBCAN, Environmental Defense Center

Upon the request from oil companies, the agency responsible for overseeing oil and gas development in California (CalGEM) proposed an exemption from federal drinking water protections to allow oil operators to inject hot steam and toxic waste into aquifers in the Cat Canyon Oil Field, located in northern Santa Barbara County. Onshore oil projects produce billions of gallons of highly toxic wastewater which is disposed of into underground aquifers.  The injection of wastewater underground increases the potential for contamination to flow into drinking water and can also result in increased seeps, spills, earthquakes, and collapsing land.

We saw this in the three projects proposed by Aera, Terracore, and PetroRock that EDC and our clients and partners defeated in 2020. These oil companies asked the state and federal governments to permit them to inject polluted concoctions into our local aquifers, threatening the drinking water relied upon by over 150,000 community members. Even though these dangerous projects are not moving forward, oil companies are still fighting for this exemption for the Cat Canyon aquifer to do away with protections under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Gambling with people’s drinking water for more dirty oil is unacceptable.  Parts of Cat Canyon are already ranked among the top one percent for groundwater threats, and once an aquifer is contaminated, it is difficult—if not impossible—to clean it up.”
– Linda Krop

EDC and our clients, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter and SBCAN, strongly oppose this exemption and have been demanding that the State deny the application, thus preventing the opening up of the Cat Canyon Field to more dangerous oil production using methods such as cyclic steam injection and steam flooding. If the State does not deny this Cat Canyon Aquifer Exemption, EDC and our clients will continue to fight this proposal before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in court, as necessary.

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