On Friday, July 18, 2014, the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) announced that it will review California’s Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) Program to ensure compliance with the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (“the Act”).  DOGGR has primary authority under the Act to regulate underground injection wells, granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”).  DOGGR will conduct the review in conjunction with the USEPA, and expects the review to be completed in 12-18 months.

Originally enacted in 1974 and amended in 1996, the Act aims “to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply.”  (EPA, Safe Drinking Water Act).  The Act is applicable to well stimulation regulations because it has authority over ground water wells, excluding private wells that serve fewer than 25 people.  Protections are designed to prevent oil and gas production wastewater from being injected into drinking water aquifers.

DOGGR stated that “[t]he announcement comes after DOGGR issued orders two weeks ago to seven oil production companies to immediately shut down 11 (of over 1,500 in California) waste water disposal wells to avoid potential harm to a limited number of groundwater aquifers in Kern County.”  (Dep’t of Conservation, California’s Oil Regulator to Review Underground Injection Control Program, at p. 1.)  The primary concern is that wastewater disposal wells may be entering protected sources of groundwater.  Jason Marshall, Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Conservation explained, “The UIC Primacy Agreement is now over 30 years old and there are many changes in industry practices and technology that merit inclusion in any revision of UIC regulations.”  (Id. at p. 2.)

The current interim well stimulation regulations were enacted under the mandate of Senate Bill 4 (“SB 4”).  The interim regulations will remain in effect until July 1, 2015, when the permanent well stimulation regulations will become effective.  As mentioned in our previous post, DOGGR is accepting public comment on the proposed permanent well stimulation regulations until July 28, 2014. 

By Mike Mills (mnmills@stoel.com) and Shannon Morrissey.  Ms. Morrissey is a Law Clerk/Summer Associate with Stoel Rives LLP and is not currently licensed to practice law in California.