California Proposes Emergency Rules for Oil & Gas Waste Water Injection Wells as Precautionary Measure

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[co-author: Shannon Morrissey - Law Clerk]

On Thursday, April 2, the California Department of Conservation (“DOC”) published a notice of proposed emergency rulemaking for the state’s Class II Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) program.  The purpose of the rulemaking is set a schedule to eliminate injection into non-exempt aquifers so as to ensure that California oil and gas activities are in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”).  The SDWA prohibits injection of Class II wells — those that dispose of waste water from oil and gas production — into non-exempt aquifers.  The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”), within the DOC, first proposed this rulemaking in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February 2015.  In March, twelve wells were shut-in in order to achieve this goal.

Dr. Steven Bohlen, DOGGR Supervisor, provided further explanation for the rulemaking: “This is a significant step in California’s commitment to ensure that underground injection practices comply with the federal [SDWA] and to quickly eliminate risks to California’s precious water resources.”  California regulators state that there has been no drinking water contamination from oil and gas wells as of March 2015; thus the previous well shut-ins and emergency rulemaking are largely precautionary measures.

The emergency rules will be sent to the Office of Administrative Law on April 9, and will become effective no later than April 30.  Read more about California’s Class II UIC program on our blog here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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