Yesterday, July 7, the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”) adopted new requirements (“Model Criteria”) for groundwater monitoring in areas where oil and gas stimulation activities occur, such as hydraulic fracturing. The Water Board was required to develop these requirements pursuant to Senate Bill 4 (“SB 4”).

The requirements cover a wide range of new obligations on oil and gas producers, including: monitoring and sampling methods, chemicals to analyze, frequency of sampling, and areas to monitor. Under the Model Criteria, monitoring is required when a well to be stimulated penetrates “protected water for current and future beneficial use,” which is defined as:

  • Water with less than 10,000 mg/L total dissolved solids, and
  • Outside an exempt aquifer (meeting the criteria of Code of Federal Regulations, title 40, part 146.4).

The Model Criteria requires, at a minimum, one upgradient and two downgradient monitoring wells for each aquifer containing protected water penetrated by a stimulated well or group of wells. When multiple aquifers containing protected water are penetrated by a stimulated well, at least two aquifers must be monitored, the shallowest and deepest aquifer.

Felicia Marcus, Chair of the Water Board, called the new requirements “the strictest in the nation.” California is the third-largest oil producing state in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing has become an important process in oil and gas production throughout the state, particularly in the Central Valley.

The new regulations come despite a recently released EPA study, which found no signs of “widespread, systemic” drinking water pollution from hydraulic fracturing.

On Monday, July 13, Stoel Rives will release a comprehensive SB 4 Handbook to aid operators in their efforts to comply with SB 4 and its accompanying regulations.  The Handbook will be available on the Stoel Rives SB 4 Resources page.