California oil/natural gas regulators on Friday moved to finalize interim/emergency regulations created in April to comport with safe drinking water requirements enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Department of Conservation's (DOC) will accept public comments until July 13 and two public hearings are to be held in Bakersfield and Santa Maria, CA.

The state issued a public notice outlining proposed regulations for the aquifer exemption compliance schedule related to the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, which is enforced by DOC's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

In April, DOGGR officials issued interim/emergency rules and since have continued to review all injection wells and ordered closures when they have found there to be a threat to drinking water (see Daily GPI, April 24). Last month, DOGGR officials reported to EPA on of their latest accelerated review of UIC wells, of which there are more than 50,000 statewide (see Shale Daily, May 19).

The proposed final rules have drawn criticism from the environmental sector (see Shale Daily, May 8). In early May, a trio of environmental groups filed a complaint in California's state Superior Court seeking to have DOGGR's interim rules governing UIC operations declared illegal.

"The proposed regulations are necessary to ensure that the state's [EPA]-approved UIC program for Class II injection wells meets the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA], and protects public health, safety and the environment in an efficient manner," said a DOGGR spokesperson.

Efforts to bring injection operations into compliance with the SDWA are an outgrowth of California's UIC program, which was approved by EPA in 1982. It is a primacy agreement in which the federal government delegates its powers to the state to enforce this part of the drinking water law. However, in 2010 an EPA audit of the state program found that California's UIC was falling short, and Friday's action is a final step toward resolving those shortcomings.

In play in the federal-state process is California's $34 billion annual oil/gas industry, which employs more than 25,000 workers. The injection wells are described by DOGGR as being an integral part of that multi-billion-dollar operation, and the 2,500 wells under scrutiny "are an important component of California's oil production infrastructure and economy," the state regulatory agency said.