Rhea Mahbubani

Preliminary Report: Livermore Oil Leak Doesn't Pose Threat to Water Supplies

Preliminary ground water testing found that a hazardous chemical leak at a Livermore oil field "does not pose a threat to water supply wells or groundwater resources in the area," according to a newly released county report obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

E&B Natural Resources owns the oil field, which produces about 11,500 barrels of oil per day at its more than 25 oil and gas fields in California, Louisiana, Kansas and Wyoming, according to the company's website.

Last week, the Investigative Unit uncovered inspection reports that revealed county and state regulators documented concerns – months ago – about possible drinking water contamination.

Residents and farmers in the area were never notified of the potential risk as the county waited on test results from soil and groundwater samples to learn more about the extent of the leak.

Alameda County’s Department of Environmental Health is the agency overseeing the cleanup in Livermore. The department’s acting director, Ronald Browder, e-mailed the Investigative Unit a copy of the county’s preliminary investigation into the spill. In his email, however, Browder did not address the Investigative Unit’s repeated requests for an interview.

In the report, the county noted that when crews dug 15 feet below the leak, they found no signs of the most dangerous chemicals that initially seeped out of the 250 barrel tank that was previously used to store crude oil.

"Petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile compounds were not detected at concentrations above the reporting limit in soil samples collected below a depth of 15 feet below ground surface," the county report stated.

While "no volatile organic compounds were detected at concentrations above the reporting limit in the groundwater sample," the report does note that traces of "three semi-volatile compounds" were detected in the ground water sample.

Since 2010, state records show E&B Natural Resources has reported 13 oil spills to state regulators in four different California counties. In the past three months, oil companies across California have reported 18 oil spills to the Governor's Office of Emergency Services – two of those spills occurred at E&B oil fields.

As a result of the Livermore leak, inspectors with Alameda County’s Department of Environmental Health cited the oil company for over a dozen violations, including for failing to immediately notify state and local regulators about the leak, which the company was legally obligated to report.

In response to the Investigative Unit’s initial story last week, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents Livermore, requested that the county’s public health director, Dr. Muntu Davis, consider declaring a health emergency for parts of Livermore.

"We did know about it, but not to this severity," said Shawn Wilson, Haggerty’s Chief of Staff. "We are very disappointed in the way it was handled."

Wilson says the county's Environmental Health Department did not adequately inform county leaders about the extent of the oil leak.

"Not informing us of the severity of the issue is quite appalling," Wilson said.

Davis has not responded to repeated requests for comment, but a spokesperson for the county health department said Davis believes "there is no public health emergency."

According to state records, E&B Natural Resources reported that it discovered the leak 8 months ago.

The oil company declined NBC Bay Area's interview request, but in a written statement said it believes the hazardous waste seeped out of an unused oil tank years ago, before the company ever purchased the oil field.

"In late March 2015, when E&B Natural Resources removed an unused storage tank, we discovered oil-stained soil underneath the unused tank. E&B has never used the tank," the statement said. "Any leak occurred prior to E&B's acquisition of the facility in 2006. The company takes full responsibility for cleaning-up the affected soil in a voluntary remediation agreement with the County."

While the county’s preliminary investigation casts doubt on whether the oil leak may have contaminated water supplies, the report noted that more research is needed before making a definitive assessment.

"Further investigation will be conducted to provide additional data regarding the extent of any groundwater contamination," the report stated.

Those results are due to the county by Dec. 21.

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