Court’s Tentative Decision Sides in Favor of DOGGR in CBD’s Wastewater Injection Lawsuit

Update: September 26, 2016

On September 21, 2016, the Honorable George C. Hernandez, Jr. issued the final Statement of Decision, which affirmed the tentative decision denying all claims for relief.  The court denied CBD’s petition for writ of mandate.

Original Post: August 22, 2016

As reported in a previous blog post, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”), filed a lawsuit against the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) in May 2015.  The lawsuit attacked DOGGR’s emergency rulemaking for aquifer exemption compliance.  Not surprisingly, like all of CBD’s spurious lawsuits attacking DOGGR for implementing its regulatory duties, on August 2, 2016, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling denying CBD’s petition for writ of mandate. This is another setback for CBD’s litigation strategy of impeding DOGGR in order to cripple the oil and gas industry.

DOGGR issued the emergency rules in response to a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that addressed California’s compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”) and the Class II Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) program.  Following DOGGR’s issuance of the emergency rules, the EPA stated “[t]he State’s emergency regulations to codify deadlines for injection well operators to cease injection, absent EPA-approved aquifer exemptions, is a critical step in the State’s plan to return the California Class II UIC program to compliance with the SDWA.”  In other words, California regulators were doing what they were supposed to do under the law.

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BLM Must Take a “Hard Look” at Fracking Impacts

On September 6, 2016, a federal Judge issued an Order finding that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) failed to take a “hard look,” as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), at the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in issuing a new Resource Management Plan (“RMP”) for the Bakersfield Field Office.  The Order directed the BLM to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (“EIS”) focusing on the potential impacts of fracking.   While the decision will likely affect future leasing under the new RMP, it is not a moratorium on fracking.

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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL UPDATE #2

This is the second update on environmental regulatory and legal developments in Los Angeles and adjacent counties, as well as the Southern San Joaquin Valley. We welcome your comments and feedback.

South Coast Air Quality Management District:

*Continued Report on New Management: Wayne Nastri, once an SCAQMD Governing Board Member, former USEPA Region IX Regional Administrator and recently an environmental consultant, was appointed acting Executive Director (ED) for the AQMD earlier this year. Some describe him as “a breath of fresh air at the District.” The Governing Board is conducting a nationwide search for a permanent ED, yet has extended Mr. Nastri’s initial 6-month term until February 2017. Mr. Nastri has made a number of staffing changes: Jill Whynot was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, working out of the Executive Office (# 2 position); Laki Tisopulos replaced Mohsen Nazemi as Deputy Executive Officer (DEO) for Engineering and Compliance; Susan Nakamura replaced Jill Whynot as acting assistant DEO for Planning and Rules. Continue Reading

Three Things You Need to Know About California’s New Surface Water Diversion Reporting Requirements

On August 22, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) held an informational meeting to answer questions and get the public up to speed on California’s new surface water diversion reporting requirements. As we previously reported, all surface water diverters will be required to report their diversions annually instead of every three years, as previously required.

Below are three things you need to know about the new requirements:

  1. The requirements will be phased in depending on how much you divert.

The measurement requirements of the regulation apply to all water right holders who divert more than 10 acre-feet of water per year and will be phased in between January 2017 and January 2018. Large diverters with a right to take 1,000 acre-feet of water or more per year must have a measuring device in place by January 1, 2017, while those with rights for 100 to 1,000 acre-feet have until July 1, 2017 and those with rights to take 10 to 100 acre-feet must comply by January 1, 2018. Continue Reading

California Supreme Court Addresses Intersection of City Right-of-Way Dedication Requirements and Project Influence in Valuing Condemned Property

Just compensation in condemnation has long been held to require payment that is fair to both the property owner having its property seized and the public taking it. Two of the rules that have developed in this pursuit of fairness came face to face in a recent case, City of Perris v. Stamper, No. S213468, 2016 Cal. LEXIS 6749 (Cal. Aug. 15, 2016). In light of the court’s holding in Perris, property owners reviewing compensation offers may need to pay particular attention to the timing of land use plans and public project announcements applicable to their property.

In Perris, the City bisected Stamper’s vacant light-industrial zone property with a 1.66 acre acquisition to construct a road. The City offered Stamper $44,000 in compensation. Stamper demanded $1.3 million. The basis for this vast difference in valuation lay in the appraisal assumptions.

The City took the position that Stamper’s industrially zoned land should be valued as if it were agricultural. Given that developing his larger property with an industrial use would, in the City’s estimation, require as a condition of City approval that Stamper dedicate the property that the City was condemning to the City without compensation, the true value of the property was no more than its value in agricultural use. The City’s theory was consistent with the holding in another case, City of Porterville v. Young, 241 Cal. Rptr. 349 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987), that deemed the valuation approach appropriate so long as the dedication met the constitutional requirements of rough proportionality of the required dedication to the development’s impact and essential nexus of the required dedication to a valid public purpose. Continue Reading

When Will They Ever Learn? CBD Files Another Questionable Lawsuit Against DOGGR

On August 3, 2016, the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed suit against the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) and the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”), challenging the regulators’ decision to approve an aquifer exemption for the Arroyo Grande oil field.  Its latest lawsuit against DOGGR, filed in the Superior Court for the City and County of San Luis Obispo, CBD alleges that DOGGR and the Water Board failed to conduct environmental review, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).  In order to appreciate the claims in the case, some background is necessary.

The Safe Drinking Water Act and Aquifer Exemptions

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 300g et seq., prohibits injection of fluids that may harm human health into an underground source of drinking water.  An “exempt aquifer” is an aquifer for which protection under the SDWA has been waived because the aquifer does not currently serve as a source of drinking water and could not serve as a source of drinking water in the future due to existing mineral production, depth of the aquifer, or existing contamination.  40 C.F.R § 146.4.  In short, an aquifer is exempt from the SDWA when it could not feasibly serve as a source of drinking water.

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Alameda Fracking Ban: All Bark with No Bite

On July 19, 2016, Alameda County, California (“County”) became the first county in the Bay Area to approve a ban on hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”).  The County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban through an amendment to the Alameda County Zoning Ordinance (“Ordinance”).  Gen. Ordinance Code §§ 17.06.100-17.06.400.

The Ordinance bans “high-intensity oil operations” which include fracking, steam injection, cyclic steaming, and all other forms of well stimulation.  The Ordinance allows waterflooding and permits an operator to continue oil production by methods authorized under a Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) permit, if those methods are not banned.  Waterflooding, a technique that includes recycling produced water to the oil reservoir, may be done only by water that is produced from the well itself.  “Produced water” is water that comes to the surface through oil production and oftentimes has no beneficial reuse due to its natural characteristics.  The Ordinance prohibits disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids, drawing a distinction between produced water and fracking fluids.  “High-intensity oil operations” does not include injection of produced water.

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Construction For The California High-Speed Rail Is Chugging Right Along

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (“CHSRA”) issued a press release with the status of its construction work for the high-speed rail project (the “Project”) at seven active sites in the Central Valley.  Many of the Project’s segments in Madera and Fresno are beginning to see development; the foundation has been established in several sections, rebar cages to form columns have been tied, and steel and concrete girders to rebuild the Tuolumne Street Bridge have been put into place.

The CHSRA’s realignment of State Route 99 from Clinton to Ashlan, is also underway to make way for the Project.  As of March 31, 2016, the Finance and Audit Committee announced that the CHSRA has acquired 28 properties along State Route 99 through negotiated contracts or stipulated orders of possession.  As of the last Finance and Audit Committee in May 2016, an additional 16 properties still need to be acquired by the CHSRA to complete the realignment of State Route 99.  

 Check out the High-Speed Rail Authority’s website to access more information about each of the projects.         

 

Proposed Oil Refinery Regulations Tackle Safety Concerns

On July 14, 2016, the California Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a “landmark set of regulations to strengthen workplace and environmental safety at oil refineries across the state.”  The refinery safety rules consist of two sets of regulations:  one amending the California Occupational Safety & Health (“OSHA”) worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries, and the other revising the California Accidental Release Prevention program (“CalARP”) regulations.  The regulations implement recommendations from Governor Jerry Brown’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, which was convened following a chemical release and fire at a refinery in August 2012.

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What You Need to Know about the Proposed Revisions to Cap and Trade

Late Tuesday, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released draft amendments to the state’s cap and trade regulation, including revisions to the current program in place through 2020, an extension of the program through 2030, and setting the stage for continued emissions reductions under the program through 2050.  ARB’s proposed amendments come in the middle of a recent milieu of uncertainty:  pending litigation challenging the legality of the existing program, an opinion from Legislative Counsel that ARB lacks authority under AB 32 to continue cap and trade past 2020, unprecedented weak demand at the most recent allowance auction, and legislation to establish a statutory emissions reductions mandate for 2030 still in process this session.  With all of these balls in the air, ARB has doubled down and drafted regulations dropping the program’s emissions cap from 334.2 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2e in 2020 to 200.5 MMT in 2030, with major elements of the cap and trade regulation continuing in effect past 2020 to achieve the emissions reductions.

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