Jackson Introduces Legislation To Reform California's Top Oil Regulatory Agency

March 11, 2015

Legislation Would Protect Drinking and Irrigation Water During California’s Historic Drought

SACRAMENTO – The day after a Senate oversight hearing highlighted the failures of the state’s regulators to protect groundwater from potential contamination from oil and gas production wastewater, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D- Santa Barbara) announced legislation to reform California’s primary oil regulatory agency.

Senate Bill 545 will reform the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) so that protecting and informing the public and the safety of drinking and irrigation water become priorities of the state agency. Now in its 100th year, the agency has had a mission centered around “encouraging” the extraction of oil and gas rather than protecting the public.

“There has been a long-standing imbalance in the culture of DOGGR that has encouraged drilling over and above protecting our public health, our water, and the environment, “ said Jackson. “It has failed to put the lives and the safety of everyday Californians over the profits and preferences of the oil and gas industry. As DOGGR embarks on its next 100 years, and as we continue in this record-breaking drought, it is clear we need a significant change in the agency that regulates oil drilling – a change that prioritizes our health, our environment, and our water. New leadership at DOGGR has indicated a significant interest in reform. It is my hope that this legislation will create a direction and an impetus to ensure that change occurs.”

SB 545 would:

  • Change the primary mission of DOGGR to encourage transparency and the protection of public health and the environment;
  • Prohibit underground injection of wastewater from oil and gas extraction in groundwater aquifers with water that is suitable or potentially suitable for drinking;
  • Require that DOGGR make written findings when approving permits and post those findings publicly so that Californians have access to information;
  • Eliminate the ability of oil and gas well owners or operators to keep records confidential after their wells have gone from the exploratory phase to the production phase, so that the public has access to the type of well, how much oil is being produced, how much water is being used or produced, and what chemicals are being used.

Last summer, DOGGR “shut in” a number of wells  in the Central Valley, where most of the waste-injection wells are located, after it was found that waste water had been injected into federally protected aquifers. Since then, a number of news stories have suggested numerous additional wells were improperly sited and could potentially contaminate groundwater used for drinking and agricultural uses.

SB 545 is expected to be heard in its first committee hearing next month.