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California Farmers Sue Over Injection Wells

In violation of federal anti-racketeering laws, California Gov. Jerry Brown allegedly conspired with state regulators and the oil industry to allow operators to inject wastewater into aquifers during the state's four-year-old drought, a group of Central Valley farmers contend in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The action by the Committee to Protect Our Agricultural Water comes within days of state oil/natural gas regulators taking action to finalize interim emergency regulations created in April to comport with safe drinking water requirements enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state Department of Conservation (DOC) is taking public comments until July 13 and two public hearings are to be held in Bakersfield and Santa Maria, CA (see Daily GPI, June 1).

In the lawsuit, the farmers cite Brown's 2011 firing of the interim head of DOC and the head of its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in response to alleged industry pressure, replacing them with officials viewed as being "more flexible" with the industry (see Daily GPI, Nov. 10, 2011).

Farmers' group attorney Rex Parris filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit against Brown, state DOC Director Mark Nechodom, former state oil/gas supervisor Tim Kustic, Kern County planning/development Director Lorelei Oviatt, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Occidental Petroleum Corp., Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), California Independent Petroleum Association and DOGGR.

The RICO lawsuit alleges that the defendants formed an "enterprise” to illegally increase oil production in the San Joaquin Valley in an effort to maximize profits and tax revenue. "Gov. Brown’s office ordered DOGGR to allow oil companies to inject salt water into fresh water," Parris said. "As a result, fresh water aquifers became contaminated and began damaging farmer’s crops."

Parris told local news media that "preserving and expanding" the oil industry's underground wastewater injection activities effectively allowed greater oil production and profits for the industry, along with bigger tax revenues for the state and county.

Spokespersons in the governor's office and at WSPA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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