What’s California’s government doing to help combat the state’s recent record-setting water shortages? According to NBC Bay Area, it’s letting oil and gas companies pump waste water from oil fracking into underground aquifers that could have been used for clean drinking water or irrigation. Such activity is supposed to be off-limits (and the aquifers should be protected by the EPA), but according to the California Department of Conservation it may have been the result of an error in the process.

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“In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made, Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall told NBC Bay Area. “There have been past issues where permits were issued to operators that they shouldn’t be injecting into those zones and so we’re fixing that.”

The process of fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting large amounts of water into the ground at high pressure to extract oil or natural gas – producing large amounts of waste water that has to go somewhere. According to Marshall companies often re-inject the waste water into the deep underground fractures from whence they took the petroleum, but other times they inject it into another aquifer closer to the surface – into aquifers deemed “exempt” by the EPA because they’re not clean enough for humans to drink. But in a letter from the State of California to the EPA, officials fess up that waste water from at least nine fracking wells was injected into “non-exempt” or clean aquifers containing high quality water.

Related: There’s a 50% Chance the Southwest Will Suffer A 30-Year Megadrought in the Next Century

Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco told NBC Bay Area such a mix up is inexcusable. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

Via NBC Bay Area

Images via Face of Fracking, Flickr Creative Commons