Environmental Activists Attack State Water Resources Control Board Order Approving Oil Industry Wastewater Disposal Methods

Stoel Rives LLP

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 Co. (“Valley”), the operator of the disposal facilities, has been disposing of wastewater in the pits, along with another disposal site, since the 1930’s. The company takes in nearly half a million gallons of oil field wastewater each day for dozens of drillers in the region. In addition to the pits, Valley uses an “irrigation” system, which uses high-powered sprinklers to spray wastewater onto parts of the 94-acre facility.

Regional Board staff recommended the immediate closure of the spray field and a provided a closure deadline of December 2016 for the pits. However, after hearing testimony from various groups, the Regional Board amended the order to allow for continued discharge into the pits until 2018. According to the company, the spray irrigation system disposes of nearly 50% of the daily wastewater received by Valley. Valley claims that closing the disposal facility would reduce oil production among the companies that rely on its facilities and would be economically devastating.

As part of its order, the Regional Board required Valley to conduct monitoring and assessment activities on the site to ensure no off-site contamination. The order also allows for a transition away from the disposal site to alternative forms of disposal, such as injection into deep underground formations.

In addition to the legal petition, a coalition of local organizations sent a letter to the Governor’s office, Water Board and other agencies requesting that they intervene and close these facilities.

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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