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California Fines Oil Companies for Failing to Report Water Use Data

Due to the drought, water scarcity is worse than ever and several big oil companies have failed to keep track of their water usage.

(TNS) -- The state fined 30 oil companies on Thursday for failing to meet a deadline to report information about the source, volume and disposal of water used in oil and gas production. Under a 2014 law, California's 433 oil producers were required to report the data to the California Department of Conservation, but only half filed completed reports in time. Another quarter of the companies complied but turned in incomplete reports.

The 30 companies, which the state said made no apparent attempt to file reports, were given the maximum civil fine of $4,500. Operators who fail to meet subsequent reporting deadlines after being fined may be subject to larger civil penalties, said Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor.

"We have made it clear that, given severe drought conditions in the state, knowledge of how water is used and treated is vital," Bohlen said.

The law, written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), requires operators to submit quarterly reports on a well-by-well basis that include as much as 250 pieces of data.

The first deadline was April 30, but the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources notified the Legislature that because of the complexities of the reporting, it was giving operators a grace period until June 1.

DOGGR, too, missed the reporting deadline. The agency said the law passed last year had vastly increased the data the state is required to collect from oil companies. Regulators are now required to track 200 billion data elements, far exceeding DOGGR's antiquated data management capacity, officials said.

The first set of data was released in mid-August.

Pavley has chided the agency, saying that it had ample notice of the requirements and that agency staff never raised concerns about meeting the reporting target.

"The department's failure to comply with the law is another example of poor management and lax regulation of the oil and gas industry that has implications for California's economy and the public health," Pavley said. "The public — during a serious drought — needs to know where this water comes from and where it's going."

California's oil fields produce far more water than oil. Last year the state produced more than 205 million barrels of oil with 3.3 billion barrels of water, according to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

©2015 the Los Angeles Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.