SHAFTER, Kern County (KPIX 5) - For the first time, California has penalized an oil company over illegal fracking activity after the discovery of a video showing wrongful dumping of the fracking discharge.
The video has now led the state to look into the drilling activity of dozens of other companies.
In October of 2012, Kern County farmer Tom Frantz knew an oil company was drilling new wells in the almond orchards near his farm in the town of Shafter. What he didn't know was that the video he recorded of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking" caught Vintage Production doing something he suspected was illegal.
"My intent was to take a movie if I saw anything interesting," Frantz told KPIX 5.
Vintage Production is just one oil company that has tapped into a vast underground oil reserve called the Monterey Shale, which is estimated to hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil - or two thirds of the nation's recoverable shale oil reserves.
After posting his video on YouTube, Frantz turned it over to the Regional Water Quality Control Board in the Central Valley. The water board's executive officer, Clay Rodgers, said the video was essential in going after Vintage Production because it was caught in the act of doing something illegal.
Video Of Illegal Fracking Discharge (source: Tom Frantz)
"Without the video I don't know that we would have ever have known that that activity took place," Rodgers said.
The activity was a black liquid discharge that was being dumped into an unlined, open pit next to the well site. Frantz was concerned about the liquid, which turned out to be discharge from the fracking process, getting into the ground water supply.
"A big international oil company is breaking the law because nobody's looking. And taking economic advantage of the law by cheating," said Frantz.
The water quality board found Vintage Production, whose parent company is Occidental Petroleum, had illegally discharged fracking fluid into an unlined sump for 12 days.
On November 15, Vintage agreed to pay the maximum fine of $60,000. It's the first time the California has fined an oil company over the fracking process.
Vintage declined to be interviewed for this story, but issued a statement to KPIX 5 saying it has voluntarily analyzed soil samples and "the data indicates compounds have not impacted the soil beneath."
However, the water board said there will be more testing and if it is determined chemicals are leaching into the soil and ground water, Vintage will have to dig them up and properly remove them.
Rodgers said that because of what Vintage was caught doing, nearly 80 other oil companies have been put on notice. "We issued orders to 78 oil companies for information about their drilling activities for the past 2 years," he said.
On the same day Vintage agreed to pay the $60,000 penalty for water quality violations, the state released its first regulations concerning fracking and the chemicals used in the process. Those rules won't go into effect until 2015.
In its statement, Vintage said it "voluntarily discontinued" the use of unlined sumps in agricultural areas in the Central Valley earlier this year.
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