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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Does California Bear A Water “Windfall” From Deep-Aquifer Sources?

Stanford University released a study this week stating that California has three times more useable groundwater located in deep aquifers than previously estimated.  This might come as welcome news to a state that continues to suffer through a historic drought.  The researchers found that fresh groundwater was available at depths previously thought to be too deep to contain fresh water.

At the outset, readers should note that “freshwater” and “drinking water” are terms of art having regulatory and legal distinctions, and ultimately making a difference for the public welfare. The definition of freshwater varies depending on the state or federal agency; however, freshwater is generally defined as having less than 3,000 mg/L of total dissolved solids (“TDS”).  Underground Sources of Drinking Water (“USDW” or “drinking water”) as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency include groundwater aquifers with less than 10,000 mg/L TDS.  For reference, seawater contains approximately 35,000 mg/L TDS.

Historically, California’s fresh groundwater supply was thought to be limited to water found above 1,000 feet. However, the researchers determined that the mean base of fresh water (“BFW”) in five Central Valley counties (Kern, Fresno, Solano, Colusa, and Yolo) ranged from 1,345 feet (Colusa) to 2,204 feet (Kern).  The base of drinking water is considerably deeper than the freshwater.  Specifically, USDW can be found in Kern and Los Angeles Counties at depths deeper than 8,200 feet. Continue Reading

Updated Status of Oil- and Gas-Related Bills Proposed in California’s 2015-2016 Legislative Session

June 3, 2016 was the final deadline for oil- and gas-related bills introduced in the 2015-2016 legislative session to move through their house of origin.  Below is a summary of those bills, many of which relate to natural gas storage following the Aliso Canyon natural gas well leak.  Stoel Rives is monitoring these bills and will provide updates as the bills move through the legislative process.

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The Other Shoe Just Dropped on Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Industry

Not to be outdone by its federal counter-parts, the California Air Resources Board (“ARB”) released Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for Crude Oil and Natural Gas Facilities (“proposed rule”) for methane emissions on Tuesday, May 31, following a slew of recent federal regulations targeting reduction of methane emissions.  Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, §§ 95665-95676 (proposed).  The federal Bureau of Land Management released proposed regulations for reducing waste and methane emissions in oil and gas operations in January 2016.  Then, in May 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also began regulating methane when it released final regulations to curb emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from additional new, modified, and reconstructed sources in the oil and gas industry.

While methane is the current emissions target for regulators’ greenhouse gas reduction efforts, the oil and gas sector is the industry target.  The proposed rule is part of California’s plan to reduce emissions from short-lived climate pollutants, including methane emissions, by 40-45% by 2025.  This follows the Obama Administration’s similar methane emissions reduction goal.

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Southern California Environmental Update #1

This is the first update on environmental regulatory and legal developments in Los Angeles and adjacent counties, as well as the Southern San Joaquin l Valley.  Let us know what you think.  Your comments on this Update will be considered for inclusion in future updates.

South Coast Air Quality Management District

*New Management:  The Governing Board has appointed Wayne Nastri, former Regional Administrator of USEPA for the Pacific Southwest and Hawaii, as interim replacement for Dr. Barry Wallerstein, dismissed by the Board in early March.  While the Board’s April appointment of Nastri was disrupted by community activists protesting the appointment as anti-environmental, some wearing clown suits, Nastri has also been praised by a leading environmental group.  Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “He has a strong environmental record, a good sense of strategy and an understanding of how important the public is in environmental decision-making,” Others describe Nastri as flexible, open and collaborative. Continue Reading

Part the Seas: Federal Report Finds Offshore Fracking has No Significant Impact

On May 27, 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”) jointly released a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (“PEA”) for well stimulation treatment activities at operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) of offshore California.  The agencies identified and studied the environmental impacts of 43 lease areas at 23 active wells that could undergo well stimulation treatments, which includes hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the PEA evaluated a range of potential impacts including air quality, water quality, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreation and tourism, and environmental justice.  In conducting the analysis, the agencies adopted definitions contained in California’s Senate Bill 4.  For example, well stimulation treatments “include, but are not limited to, hydraulic fracturing treatments and acid well stimulations.”

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Clean Up Green Up—Supplemental Use Districts—more regulation for three LA City Neighborhoods

On June 4, 2016, the City of Los Angeles rolls out its much-discussed Clean Up Green Up (CUGU) pilot program for three communities: Boyle Heights, Wilmington and Pacoima. Ordinance 184246, approved by Mayor Garcetti on April 22, 2016, adds new rules to the City’s Planning and Zoning Code and Building Code. CUGU is controversial. Communities and their advocates say that the cumulative environmental impacts from multiple businesses in these neighborhoods expose residents to higher levels of pollution than other City neighborhoods. They also say the program is designed to help neighborhood businesses obtain permits and comply with regulations. Businesses and their advocates assert that the program has abandoned promises for meaningful incentives and assistance to local businesses. They also say that the program will discourage business improvement because major improvements or additions bring down the new regulations on the heads of existing businesses. Continue Reading

New Regulations for California Groundwater Management

California has moved one step closer to implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”), California’s landmark groundwater legislation. On Wednesday, May 18, the California Water Commission adopted a set of regulations that will govern the creation of groundwater sustainability plans (“GSPs”) by local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (“GSAs”). The emergency regulations, developed by the Department of Water Resources (“DWR”), take effect in June.

The new regulations will have some real impacts on GSAs and their implementation of SGMA. The most significant requirements include: Continue Reading

New Laws Reform California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act

True to his word, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills, AB 1142 and SB 209, into law on Monday to reform California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA).  Now, before getting too excited, keep in mind that the new laws are nowhere near the “top to bottom” reform called for by Brown in 2013.  Local control with state oversight still remains at the heart of SMARA.  However, the new laws will have some real impacts on operators and lead agencies during inspections and state-review of reclamation plans and financial assurances.  The most significant reforms include:

New Name but No Changes in Responsibilities

The Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) will be renamed the “Division of Mine Reclamation” and the Director of OMR will be the “Supervisor of Mine Reclamation.”  Despite a new name and title, the oversight role and responsibility of the renamed Division of Mine Reclamation and Supervisor of Mine Reclamation remain very much the same as before this reform.

Reform Is Expensive

Maximum annual fees imposed on operators will increase from $4,000 to $6,000 in 2017 to $8,000 in 2018 and to $10,000 starting in 2019.

Reclamation Plan Contents Clarified

The new laws clarified the required contents of reclamation plans for new surface mining operations.  The most significant change requires all engineering, geologist, or land surveyor related maps, diagrams or calculations to include a signature and seal from a California-licensed professional.  This has long been the policy of OMR, based on a policy adopted by the State Mining and Geology Board; however, that policy was never formally adopted through a rule making process applicable to all mines.  As a result, the policy frequently caused confusion as to its applicability during OMR’s review process for reclamation plans. Continue Reading

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