On January 19, 2017, three oil industry trade groups filed suit against the California Department of Conservation and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) (jointly “Department”) in Kern County Superior Court alleging that DOGGR’s oil field wastewater injection regulations violate operators’ constitutional rights. Western States Petroleum Association, California Independent Petroleum Association, and Independent Oil Producers Agency (collectively “Plaintiffs”) seek “declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the arbitrary and unlawful shut-in of potentially thousands of Class II injection wells in violation of Plaintiffs’ members’ due process rights.” Complaint at 1.
The instant lawsuit was spurred by the impending deadline for halting wastewater injection, which is two weeks from today. DOGGR’s Aquifer Exemption Compliance Schedule Regulations, effective April 20, 2016, regulate wastewater injection into underground aquifers, through Class II injection wells, and require operators to seek “exempt” status for injection into specified aquifers. In order to obtain an aquifer exemption, the operator must submit technical data to support exempt status, go through a public hearing process, and receive concurrence from DOGGR and the State Water Resources Control Board that the aquifer meets the criteria for exempt status. Finally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) must approve the aquifer exemption. By February 15, 2017, operators must halt new and existing injection into aquifers that have not been approved as exempt by the U.S. EPA. However, the U.S. EPA has not yet approved any aquifer exemption applications.
“Requiring operators summarily to shut-in their wells and disrupt production for an unspecified time pending completion of the aquifer exemption review process would result in an unconstitutional violation of due process and would deprive the Plaintiffs’ members of their rights to operate these wells in compliance with lawfully obtained permits.” Complaint at 4.
Plaintiffs note that the Department has stated that it expects the U.S. EPA to approve the majority of the aquifer exemption applications, which indicates that the Department does not believe the injection wells pose any risk to the aquifers. Through the lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek to allow oil operators to “preserve the status quo and continue operation of lawfully permitted injection wells pending the agencies’ completion of the aquifer exemption review process.” Complaint at 1 (emphasis added).
The case is Western States Petroleum Association et al. v. Dept. of Conservation, Case No. CV-17-100128 (filed Jan. 19, 2017).