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
BLM Must Take a “Hard Look” at Fracking Impacts
On September 6, 2016, a federal Judge issued an Order finding that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) failed to take a “hard look,” as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), at the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in issuing a new Resource Management Plan (“RMP”) for the Bakersfield Field Office. The Order directed the BLM to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (“EIS”) focusing on the potential impacts of fracking. While the decision will likely affect future leasing under the new RMP, it is not a moratorium on fracking.
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When Will They Ever Learn? CBD Files Another Questionable Lawsuit Against DOGGR
On August 3, 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed suit against the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) and the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”), challenging the regulators’ decision to approve an aquifer exemption for the Arroyo Grande oil field. In its latest lawsuit against DOGGR, filed in the Superior Court for the City and County of San Luis Obispo, CBD alleges that DOGGR and the Water Board failed to conduct environmental review, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). In order to appreciate the claims in the case, some background is necessary.
The Safe Drinking Water Act and Aquifer Exemptions
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 300g et seq., prohibits injection of fluids that may harm human health into an underground source of drinking water. An “exempt aquifer” is an aquifer for which protection under the SDWA has been waived because the aquifer does not currently serve as a source of drinking water and could not serve as a source of drinking water in the future due to existing mineral production, depth of the aquifer, or existing contamination. 40 C.F.R § 146.4. In short, an aquifer is exempt from the SDWA when it could not feasibly serve as a source of drinking water.…
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Alameda Fracking Ban: All Bark with No Bite
On July 19, 2016, Alameda County, California (“County”) became the first county in the Bay Area to approve a ban on hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”). The County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban through an amendment to the Alameda County Zoning Ordinance (“Ordinance”). Gen. Ordinance Code §§ 17.06.100-17.06.400.
The Ordinance bans “high-intensity oil operations” which include fracking, steam injection, cyclic steaming, and all other forms of well stimulation. The Ordinance allows waterflooding and permits an operator to continue oil production by methods authorized under a Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) permit, if those methods are not banned. Waterflooding, a technique that includes recycling produced water to the oil reservoir, may be done only by water that is produced from the well itself. “Produced water” is water that comes to the surface through oil production and oftentimes has no beneficial reuse due to its natural characteristics. The Ordinance prohibits disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids, drawing a distinction between produced water and fracking fluids. “High-intensity oil operations” does not include injection of produced water.…
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Part the Seas: Federal Report Finds Offshore Fracking has No Significant Impact
On May 27, 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”) jointly released a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (“PEA”) for well stimulation treatment activities at operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) of offshore California. The agencies identified and studied the environmental impacts of 43 lease areas at 23 active wells that could undergo well stimulation treatments, which includes hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the PEA evaluated a range of potential impacts including air quality, water quality, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreation and tourism, and environmental justice. In conducting the analysis, the agencies adopted definitions contained in California’s Senate Bill 4. For example, well stimulation treatments “include, but are not limited to, hydraulic fracturing treatments and acid well stimulations.”…
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No Issuance of Federal Offshore Fracking Permits Until May 2016
On January 29, 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), agencies within the federal Department of the Interior (“DOI”), agreed to put a temporary moratorium on issuance of fracking permits in the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf until environmental review is conducted. The temporary moratorium is the result of a settlement agreement between the DOI and the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”). CBD sued the federal agencies in February 2015, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and other federal statutes. The litigation culminated in this settlement agreement.
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Environmental Challenge Blasts Kern County Oil and Gas Rules
On Thursday, December 10, environmental organizations filed a complaint against Kern County in California Superior Court alleging that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) by preparing a “grossly inadequate” Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for its new oil and gas rules. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (jointly “the Sierra Club”), along with several other local organizations, take issue with the programmatic approach of the EIR, and urge a well-by-well environmental analysis. This lawsuit comes as no surprise to the County. Environmental groups have a long history of opposing oil and gas development in Kern County, which produces over 70% of all the oil in California.
This lawsuit comes in reaction to a Kern County zoning ordinance amendment which harnessed broad local support. On November 9, 2015, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved amendments to Title 19 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance which provides a streamline permitting process for oil and gas operations. Notably, the new ordinance encourages oil and gas producers to work with surface owners to agree on a development plan, promoting cooperation and transparency. The amendments also required the County to conduct an extensive environmental analysis pursuant to CEQA. The Board of Supervisors certified the Final EIR after holding multiple public Scoping Meetings and reviewing various mitigation measures.…
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Kern County Acts to Streamline Oil & Gas Permitting
In a process that took nearly three years to complete, on Monday, November 9, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a significant change to its oil and gas regulations.
The change affects Title 19 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance and provides a streamline permitting process for oil and gas operations. The…
Bunn’s “Renewal Plan” will Overhaul Oil & Gas Regulation in California Starting Next Year
On October 8, the California Department of Conservation (“DOC”) released a Renewal Plan for Oil and Gas Regulation (“Renewal Plan”) to revamp its regulatory program. The goal of the Renewal Plan is to continue the DOC’s focus on environmental protection and public health, and it will shape the DOC’s regulatory decisions for the next two years.
The Renewal Plan contains four objectives: (1) regulatory overhaul, (2) new regulations for “new realities,” (3) modernization of data management, and (4) ensuring a high-quality workforce. California’s Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) program is a key focus, and the Renewal Plan calls for a review of aquifer exemptions. Exempt aquifers are those that are permitted to receive injection of Class II fluids (fluids associated with the production of oil and gas). The review of exempt aquifers will ensure that Class II fluids are not being injected into potential drinking water sources.
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Environmental Activists Attack State Water Resources Control Board Order Approving Oil Industry Wastewater Disposal Methods
On August 28, Earthjustice filed a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”) seeking to overturn a Central Valley Regional Water Board (“Regional Board”) order allowing an oil and gas wastewater disposal company to maintain their ongoing waste water operations, which can employ unlined disposal pits in Kern County.
Valley Water Management…
Activists ask Court to Scrap EIR and Stop Fracking
Today, July 30, the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed a complaint in Sacramento County Superior Court against the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”). CBD claims, among other things, that DOGGR failed to comply with Senate Bill 4 (“SB 4”) by releasing its Final EIR regarding oil and gas well stimulation treatment prior to the release of a state-mandated Independent Study.
This lawsuit strikes us as more of a shout out to the Legislature and the Governor to highlight CBD’s ongoing disappointment with SB 4, more than anything else. CBD mistakenly construes SB 4 to require DOGGR to analyze and incorporate the Independent Study’s findings into its Final EIR, when no such requirement is found in the law. Indeed, by its terms, SB 4 only requires DOGGR to comply with the following requirements relating to the EIR:
- The EIR shall be certified by the division as the lead agency, no later than July 1, 2015.
- The EIR shall address the issue of activities that may be conducted as defined in Section 3157 and that may occur at oil wells in the state existing prior to, and after, the effective date of this section.
- The EIR shall not conflict with an EIR conducted by a local lead agency that is certified on or before July 1, 2015.
(Pub. Resources Code, § 3161.) The Legislature, not the Sacramento County Superior Court, is the proper body to which this additional request should be made, as there is currently no law mandating it.
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