California Regulators Allow Oil Companies to Continue Injecting Wastewater Into More Than 1,600 Wells in Protected Aquifers

Regulators with the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) announced in January that they plan to halt oil and gas wastewater injection in 475 oil wells in the Golden State — but also that they will continue to allow injections into federally protected aquifers at another 1,650 wells.

According to the environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action, the announcement appears to be in violation of DOGGR‘s own compliance schedule, adopted by regulation in 2014, which requires all injection well operators that have not obtained an aquifer exemption from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cease injection by February 15, 2017.

DOGGR‘s decision covers illegal injection operations in aquifers in 29 oilfields, which will continue past the February 15 deadline while the oil companies responsible for them apply for an exemption from the US Safe Drinking Water Act. California officials and the EPA must review the merits of each exemption application. There is no set timeline for this process and it could take months, Clean Water Action said.

Keith Nakatani, Oil and Gas Program Manager for Clean Water Action, said that the group applauds DOGGR‘s decision to shut down 475 illegal injection wells that are threatening drinking water sources. “But 1,650 other wells continue injecting in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” he added. “These wells should have never been permitted, and they continue to put potential drinking water sources at risk.”

Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Conservation, of which DOGGR is a sub-department, said that the February 15 deadline was established through discussions between the EPA, DOGGR, and the California State Water Resources Control Board. “All three parties were aware that the deadline was ambitious and have been in constant communication about the efforts to bring California into full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Drysdale said. “US EPA on January 26 transmitted a…

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