Industry and Environmental Groups Make Pitch to Water Board Regarding Draft Model Criteria for Groundwater Monitoring

On Tuesday, May 19, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”) held a Public Workshop regarding the proposed Draft Model Criteria for Groundwater Monitoring (“Model Criteria”). In this meeting, the Water Board heard comments from stakeholders who voiced their support or concern regarding the Model Criteria.

Dr. Steven Bohlen, the State Oil & Gas Supervisor, on behalf of the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) provided the Water Board with a variety of statistics regarding well stimulation operations that have occurred since DOGGR’s Interim Regulations went into effect on January 1, 2014. Dr. Bohlen reported that over 1,500 Interim Well Stimulation Treatment Notices have been received by DOGGR since January 1, 2014. Additionally, 809 well stimulation operations have been conducted and 22 monitoring plans have been approved. Furthermore, about 200 acre feet of water has been used for well stimulation operations.

Both environmental and industry stakeholders gave presentations to the Water Board outlining various concerns each group had with the Model Criteria. A representative from Clean Water Action, an environmental advocacy group, voiced the group’s support for the Model Criteria. However, the group pressed the Water Board to expand the Model Criteria to cover activities beyond the regulation’s current scope.

Industry representatives from the Western States Petroleum Association, (“WSPA”) asked the Water Board to take a more measured approach, citing the industry’s track record for environmental safety and current monitoring programs. Furthermore, industry representatives sought a more flexible approach that takes into account the different geologic conditions that affect groundwater flows. Specifically, the WSPA representative stated that there may not always be a need for an up-gradient monitoring well when a down-gradient well would provide sufficient information to monitor groundwater. Additionally, the WSPA representative noted that the list of substances to be monitored includes substances not used in well stimulation operations. Water Board Member Steven Moore acknowledged this and suggested that the Water Board consider a “telescoping” framework, where testing would start small and increase as needed.

The proposed draft Model Criteria were developed by the Water Board in consultation with DOGGR, Regional Water Boards, public stakeholders, and technical experts. Comments regarding the proposed draft Model Criteria must be submitted to the Water Board prior to 12:00 p.m. (noon) on May 29, 2015. The proposed final Model Criteria will be made available for a 10-day public comment period beginning June 19, 2015. The Water Board will consider adoption of the final Model Criteria at its July 7, 2015 meeting.