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.
Update: On April 20, 2015, the emergency regulations were adopted after being approved by the Office of Administrative Law, and are now in effect.