Picture of the Well No. 28 Drilling Project circa October 2021 Credit: Owen Agbayani

As I finished up my night shift on Sept. 30, there was one thing that remained in the back of my mind throughout that day: “WELL No. 28 DRILLING PROJECT” (June – October 2021).

Earlier that day, I explored the Circle with some of my friends. On our way to Thai Towne Eatery, I came across the infamous (or rather, unknown to residents) drilling project, located near my university’s film school. It didn’t really stand out — I only ever heard about it from my professors, and with some searching, a Facebook post announcing its construction from Aug. 12, 2021.

Up close, there was a sign showing its City of Orange Public Works approval, but beyond the yellow tape, rustic pipes, and construction vehicles, there was a water well waiting to be researched.

I’m no stranger to drilling sites. Growing up, I’ve always been surrounded by projects funded by my own state’s Public Works department. Some were beautification efforts to preserve the natural charm of community-cherished buildings; others, fulfilled a need for new roads, sidewalks, and pavement. Drilling projects, however, have always stirred uneasiness.

Just a few days ago in my First Year Foundation Class (FFC), which focused primarily on environmental justice, my classmates and I were shouting topic ideas for our upcoming case study project. I was one of the few who wanted to research the Well No. 28 Drilling Project.

Now, you may be wondering, what even is the Well No. 28 Drilling Project? More importantly, why should we care?

To understand, one should realize that California has had a lengthy history of neighborhood drilling. Even now, as society slowly recovers from the repercussions of the pandemic, the City of Orange continues to fund similar projects.

Well No. 28 is not much different from those previous construction sites. As indicated by the State of California’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the project aims to “remove existing asphalt on the project site” and “construct a new [water] well (Well 28) with a pumping station.” With Well 28, the City of Orange also plans to build a surrounding “pocket park,” with “decorative perimeter fencing, benching, cafe game tables,” and other amenities, as shared in a news update on their official website.

But what makes the Well No. 28 Drilling Project special isn’t its name, potential aesthetics, supposed convenience, nor even its affiliation; rather, it concerns the area that the site is located in, and the potential devastation that may lay waste upon its completion.

To adequately consider the well, there must be a base-level comprehension of the geography that surrounds the site. Directly indicated by the original Well Design Report for this project, the well site is located on a City of Orange-owned property near 235 West Maple Avenue, sitting on the northeast corner of the intersection between West Maple Avenue and North Lemon Street.

Curiously, just a few feet away from the well construction is another site named Anaconda.

A few years ago, Chapman University settled a lawsuit over contamination on Anaconda’s ground, which was a potential residence hall site. According to the OC Register, Chapman University, along with ARCO, a gas and oil company, reached a federal out-of-court settlement, and moved forward with decontaminating the site.

Despite not seeming like a poisonous territory for human life, the chemicals that dwell in the water around Anaconda have proven to be constituents of concern (COC). The tainted waters were mapped out by the Orange County Water District, which further demonstrates the full extent of the tainted waters’ reach.

According to the Well Design Report for Drilling Project No. 28, the two most notable chemicals found in not just Anaconda but also in other water-supply wells near Orange were perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated that potential health effects of PFAS include “increased cholesterol, risk of kidney or testicular cancer, and/or decreased vaccine response in children,” along with other side-effects from continuing exposure.

Despite the potential danger that Well No. 28 poses, why does it not concern the majority of Orange’s residents?

Unfortunately, not many people know about the two COCs in the water surrounding the site. Actually, not many people even know about the existence of Well No. 28 itself.

But once the water well is complete, it will only take one earthquake, one wrong routine-check, one wrong something for the poison to seep into the water. And the worst part isn’t simply the lack of awareness surrounding the drilling project. It is the fact that the site, having started earlier this year, is almost done.

Owen Lucas Agbayani lives in Orange and is a first-year undergraduate student at Chapman University studying English. He is part of the Wilkinson College Student Advisory and Leadership Council, a volunteer for Solar Rights Alliance, as well as an editor for Chapman University’s Undergraduate Law Review.

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