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May 13, 2015  |  Written by Richard S. Deitchman

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Challenging California’s New Aquifer Exemption Compliance Schedule Regulations

On May 7, 2015, Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity (collectively “Environmental Groups”) filed a complaint and petition for writ of mandate in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the State of California’s Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources’ (DOGGR) recently enacted emergency regulations relating to the underground disposal of wastewater from oil production in certain aquifers.  Effective April 20, 2015, DOGGR’s “Aquifer Exemption Compliance Schedule Regulations” (Exemption Regulations) are the first step in its efforts to wind down existing disposal into non-exempt and 11 inaccurately classified aquifers within the next two years.  For background on underground wastewater disposal and the recent dialog between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOGGR regarding DOGGR’s efforts to maintain primacy under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, please see article entitled State Agencies Summarize Plan to Evaluate Underground Wastewater Injection Wells Associated with Oil and Gas Operations.

The Exemption Regulations provide a phase out for wastewater injection into certain aquifers based on existing groundwater quality.  For aquifers not in commercially viable hydrocarbon producing zones, with groundwater with less than 3,000 mg/L total dissolved solids (TDS), injection must cease by October 2015.  In those non-commercially viable hydrocarbon producing zones, if the groundwater contains 3,000 to 10,000 mg/L TDS, injection must cease by February 2017.  In addition, in commercially viable hydrocarbon producing zones where TDS is less than 10,000 mg/L injection must cease by February 2017.  Finally, the Exemption Regulations require that injection cease into the 11 inaccurately classified aquifers by December 31, 2016.

Environmental Groups’ lawsuit alleges that the Exemption Regulations are illegal and asks the Superior Court to halt wastewater injection operations into the subject aquifers.  Environmental Groups contend that the Exemption Regulations, including the phased compliance schedule, fail to adequately protect underground sources of drinking water.  The lawsuit acknowledges that DOGGR will complete a review of the impacts of 30,000 underground injection wells on groundwater quality in 2016, but still argues that the Exemption Regulations’ compliance schedule is not adequate.  The complaint and petition for writ of mandate does not acknowledge DOGGR’s commitment in its February 2015 letter to EPA to use administrative orders to suspend any injection operations in the event there is a potential impact to water supply wells.  Environmental Groups’ lawsuit is one more in the many recent events boosting DOGGR’s underground injection programs to the forefront of California’s natural resource issues.

For more information on this lawsuit or DOGGR’s programs, please contact Rich Deitchman at (916) 446 7979 or rdeitchman@somachlaw.com.

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