As an update to our prior blog post, on January 17, 2017, the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) released a letter sent to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) of California’s progress toward compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.  DOGGR stated that it will allow oil field wastewater

December 31, 2016 marked a deadline for oilfield operators to comply with the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources’ (“DOGGR”) Aquifer Exemption and Compliance Schedule Regulations.  Operators were required to either cease injection of oilfield wastewater or obtain an aquifer exemption to continue injecting such wastewater.  This deadline was applicable to 11 aquifers that were historically treated as “exempt” aquifers, but have recently undergone review by DOGGR due to compliance issues with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”).

For any underground injection project approved by the Division [DOGGR] for injection into one of the 11 aquifers listed in subdivision (b)(1), injection shall cease by December 31, 2016, unless and until the U.S[.] Environmental Protection Agency, subsequent to April 20, 2015, determines that the aquifer or the portion of the aquifer where injection is occurring meets the criteria for aquifer exemption.

Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 1779.1(b)

Continue Reading With Time Running Out for EPA to Act, Oil & Gas Operators Grow Increasingly Anxious about Pending Aquifer Exemption Applications

Despite the wet start of 2016, many parts of California continue to face severe water shortages.  The state has grown ever more tapped with groundwater production wells as Californians seek to utilize aquifers to meet their water needs.  However, experts have warned that this modern-day “gold rush” for water from underground aquifers may carry serious consequences for the environment and the future, as well as groundwater users (particularly as implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act gets underway).

In response, Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) has introduced legislation that will halt the development of new water wells in aquifers at risk of overdraft. The Aquifer Protection Act would require cities or counties overlying groundwater basins designated as high- or medium-priority under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (Water Code section 10722.4) to require conditional use permits for new water wells.  The bill prohibits new well permits in basins of critical overdraft and basins that are in probationary status.

Cities and counties can avoid the requirements of the Aquifer Protection Act by passing their own limits, which is easier said than done given the hotly contested fights over access to water and water rights. Wells yielding small amounts of water and replacement wells are exempt from the Act.
Continue Reading Aquifer Protection Act – Slowing the Flow from California Aquifers

A lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to oil and gas wastewater injection at 2,500 wells across California took a positive turn for energy producers last week as Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in a closely watched case challenging long-standing operations in the California oil and gas industry.

Plaintiffs in Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Conservation, California Superior Court, Alameda County, asked the court to throw out the emergency proposed rulemaking recently issued by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”). Additionally, the plaintiffs sought an injunction to stop injection wells operating in disputed aquifers.

Under the emergency proposed rulemaking, wastewater injections into non-exempt aquifers must be phased out by 2017. The proposed phasing-out period gives both DOGGR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) the opportunity to determine whether some of the aquifers should be considered suitable places to inject produced water.

In finding no evidence of risk of imminent harm to protected non-exempt aquifers, the court concluded: “On this record, the threat of such contamination [of drinking water aquifers] is theoretical and speculative and plainly outweighed by the other harms [to the public, economy and industry] which are virtually certain to occur if an injunction issues.”
Continue Reading Fate of Injection Wells in Historically Exempt Aquifers Comes Closer to Determination

On Thursday, May 7, 2015, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to oil and gas wastewater injection at 2,500 wells across California.

The suit, filed by the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, claims that the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) should be prohibited from letting companies pump produced water from their drilling operations into non-exempt aquifers.

DOGGR has repeatedly assured Californians that there has been “no contamination of water used for drinking or agricultural purposes related to underground injection by the oil and gas industry” and “no evidence has been found that underground injection has damaged sources of potential drinking water.”

Under DOGGR’s recently issued emergency proposed rulemaking, industry wastewater injections into non-exempt aquifers must be phased out by 2017.   However, the lawsuit calls for the injections to stop immediately. The proposed phasing-out period gives both DOGGR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) the opportunity to determine whether some of the aquifers — particularly those that also contain oil — should be considered suitable places to inject produced water. The EPA has the authority to declare an aquifer exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, making it eligible for wastewater injections.
Continue Reading Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Oil Industry Wastewater Disposal Practices