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California Judge Rejects Enviro Groups' Challenge to Injection Wells

A California Superior Court judge in Alameda County recently upheld the state's ongoing program for underground injection control (UIC) wells, which has come under criticism the past two years.

Judge George Hernandez found that the state Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) did not violate agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allow the state to administer UIC programs to protect drinking water aquifers (see Shale DailyFeb. 9, 2015).

Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club last July filed a complaint against DOGGR, alleging it wasn't doing its job in terms of its UIC oversight under a more than 30-year-old agreement with EPA. The environmental groups asked the judge to find the state agency in violation of an administrative procedures act because it issued emergency regulations to allow underground injection of wastewater and other fluids into aquifers lacking the proper federal exemptions.

The lawsuit also asked for the court to void the emergency regulations from DOGGR.

In his seven-page ruling, Hernandez concluded that DOGGR's action did not conflict with the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and the emergency regulations are moot because they expired and have since been replaced by permanent DOGGR regulations.

Under the new requirements last year, DOGGR said it was dedicated to bringing the state into compliance with federal SDWA standards. State oil and natural gas regulators at that time permanently closed 33 underground injection wells (see Shale Daily, Oct. 19, 2015).

"DOGGR has discretion to select the appropriate corrective action to remedy any deficiencies in its UIC program, including the compliance schedule implemented as part of [the agency's] regulations," the judge said.

California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman hailed the court's decision, saying it upholds the viability of protecting the environment while still developing oil/natural gas sources.

"Unbiased, independent scientific reviews have proven that responsible oil production can coexist with environmental protection," Zierman said. "Science and the courts have consistently sided with the facts, rather than the hyperbole of activists.”

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