$60,000 penalty for fracking fluid in unlined Kern County pit

The Fresno BeeNovember 15, 2013 

An oil company in Kern County has agreed to pay a $60,000 penalty after discharging saline water and hydraulic fracturing fluid into an unlined pit, state water authorities said Friday.

The settlement with Vintage Production California LLC is the first state action against an oil company involving hydraulic fracturing or fracking -- extracting oil from shale by injecting it with water and chemicals.

The company also agreed to further investigate possible groundwater contamination around the pit, according to the draft order posted by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. The public has 30 days to comment on the order.

A spokeswoman for Vintage Production, a subsidiary of Occident Petroleum, said the company fully cooperated in the investigation. Spokeswoman Susie Geiger said Vintage's primary concern is to safeguard the environment.

Though hundreds of new fracking wells have been drilled in the last three years, California does not have a specific law governing it. Gov. Jerry Brown this year signed Senate Bill 4, regulating the controversial practice. It will take effect in January.

Petroleum industry officials say fracking is a safe, proven technology. But environmentalists are suing to stop California fracking, saying no one knows for sure if it is polluting the underground water or the air.

State inspectors issued a notice of violation earlier this year to Vintage Production. Authorities were prompted to investigate Vintage after viewing a YouTube video of an illegal discharge near Shafter.

The video was shot in October 2012 by Shafter environmental activist Tom Frantz.

Regional board leaders now are reviewing a state waiver granted five years ago that allows oil companies to legally discharge some kinds of fluids and drilling muds into unlined pits.

In the settlement, Vintage has agreed to cease discharging into any unlined pits in agricultural areas.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, mgrossi@fresnobee.com or @markgrossi on Twitter.

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