The Clean Water Blog

California's Emergency Oil and Gas Regulations Aren't Enough

By Andrew Grinberg, California Oil and Gas Program Manager - Follow Andrew on Twitter (@AndrewBGrinberg)

Yesterday the California Department of Conservation (DOC) and Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) issued draft emergency regulations on aquifer exemptions under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The emergency regulations describe the process that the state will use for submitting applications to US EPA for exempting aquifers which enable oil and gas companies to inject fluids for waste disposal or enhance oil recovery (EOR). The text of the draft regulations and how to submit a comment can be viewed here.

We are glad that the state is finally taking action. Steps like including the State Water Board in the exemption process and requiring public hearings are positive and should be put into permanent statute. That's why Clean Water Action is sponsoring Assembly Bill 356 (Williams) to bring these permanent changes to the aquifer exemption process.

But, these emergency regulations just don't go far enough to protect Californians or our water. DOGGR should immediately shut down the over 2,000 active injection wells that are operating in non-exempt aquifers in violation of the Federal  Safe Drinking Water Act. As long as the state allows injection to occur in non-exempt aquifers, these regulations fail to protect many potential sources of drinking water.

The criteria for exempting aquifers does not take into account the reality of California's water crisis. As this current drought persists, and with future droughts on  the horizon, Californians will need to access deeper, and lower quality groundwater. Allowing new exemptions based on the current criteria is reckless and may jeopardize future water supplies.

In light of the Governor's order to implement a 25% reduction in urban water use, these regulations on the oil industry are especially lacking. The state is still allowing oil companies to inject toxic chemicals into usable groundwater - all while asking Californians to cut back our water use.

We'll be working to make sure that these emergency regulations are as strong as possible when they are finalized. Stay tuned.