Two California oil producers owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp. will pay close to $500,000 to settle charges they improperly disposed of 57,000 gallons of fluid waste into unlined pits in the Central Valley between early 2012 and Nov. 15 of last year.
Separate from a recent settlement in which Houston-based Occidental ended up fined about $60,000 for dumping fracking fluid, the agreements released Tuesday are part of a crackdown on illegal dumping of saline “produced water” and other oil field fluids. The fines total $476,784,
The water board said the two companies named in the settlements, Occidental of Elk Hills and Vintage Production California, improperly dumped waste into unlined drilling pits at 14 oil well sites.
The board said waste material dumped at those pits consisted primarily of “produced water,” the saline fluid that comes up with oil during production. Such pits are generally suitable for disposal of drilling fluids, which cool and lubricate drilling equipment, but not produced water or other kinds of waste. Those fluids should end up disposed of in approved sumps or injected into designated aquifers.
Occidental said in a written statement that cooperating with the regulatory agency that negotiated the settlements, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, was a top priority for the two companies.
“We cooperated fully to settle the water board’s claim about past use of certain drilling sumps,” Occidental said. “We had already closed the sumps in a manner that protects groundwater, and also improved our operational practices and controls before receiving the water board’s administrative action.”