Challenge Against DOGGR Can't Stand Under SB 4: Alameda County Judge Throws Out Environmental Suit

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Environmental groups will have to wait to challenge hydraulic fracturing activities in the state of California until the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”)  issues its permanent regulations in 2015.  This is according to Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo, who on January 17, 2014, granted a motion to dismiss a challenge brought by environmental groups opposing ongoing hydraulic fracturing activities.  (Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. DOGGR, Super. Ct. Alameda County, 2014, No. RG12652054.)  The Court explained that “the Legislature has given [DOGGR] clear directions to study fracking and have regulations in place by 2015.”  (Slip Op. at 5.) 

In addition, the Court determined that the text of SB 4 is unequivocal: DOGGR must allow hydraulic fracturing activities to continue in 2014 if operators meet the requirements spelled out in Pub. Res. Code § 3161(b).  (Slip Op. at 3-4.)  As such, challenges to DOGGR’s allowance of such activities are moot during the 2014 interim period.

Plaintiffs also attempted to challenge DOGGR pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) for what it considers to be a “pattern and practice” in avoiding environmental review of individual oil and gas projects.  (Slip Op. at 1.)  Plaintiffs argued that DOGGR exempts these projects or issues negative declarations based on boilerplate findings, but should be required to conduct environmental review of applications for hydraulic fracturing moving forward.  (Id. at 1-2.)   However, the Court determined that this issue is not yet ripe, as DOGGR has not yet completed its regulations, nor the EIR that is required pursuant to Pub. Res. Code § 3161(b)(4).

Industry groups, such as the California Independent Petroleum Association and the Western States Petroleum Association, entered the suit as Defendants-in-Intervention.