Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 21, 2019


Lauren Packard, (510) 844-7103,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration OK of Oil Waste Dumping in California Aquifer

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to consider threats to the environment and endangered wildlife before approving an aquifer exemption for the Arroyo Grande oilfield south of San Luis Obispo.

The exemption lifted Safe Drinking Water Act protection for groundwater in Price Canyon, allowing oilfield operators to move forward with a proposal to drill 450 new wells and turn the area into a permanent dumping ground for oil-waste fluid.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, says President Donald Trump’s EPA violated federal law by failing to analyze the aquifer exemption’s risks as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. It also notes that the EPA ignored threats to rare plants and animals, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The suit asks the court to set aside the EPA’s unlawful approval.

“It’s despicable that the Trump administration wants to help the oil industry turn Price Canyon into a toxic-waste dump,” said Lauren Packard, a Center attorney. “Oil waste can contain benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals that threaten water supplies and wildlife. Our environmental laws are supposed to prevent this kind of destruction, and we’re going to court make sure they’re enforced.”

The area is home to endangered and threatened species including the Pismo clarkia flower, California red-legged frog, tidewater goby and South-Central California Coast steelhead trout. Oil-waste disposal and high-pressure injection into the aquifer could cause spills or contaminate other groundwater and harm these rare plants and animals.

The EPA exemption is necessary to allow the applicant, Sentinel Peak Resources, to more than double the number of wells in the field and increase daily oil production tenfold. That expansion could harm animals in the Pismo State Beach area, home to southern sea otters and western snowy plovers.

Today’s lawsuit follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Tuesday announcement of a moratorium on new high-pressure steam injection wells and scientific review of all fracking permit applications. Steam injection has been commonly used in Arroyo Grande. The high-temperature procedure causes massive damage underground and has been linked to a fatal accident and to oil spills in several California oilfields, including Arroyo Grande.

“Regulators should pull the plug on this expansion immediately in keeping with the governor’s historic actions,” said Packard. “Steam injection is a dangerous process that contaminates groundwater and raises the risk of oil spills. It’s time to stop making concessions to this toxic industry and start protecting California’s water and wildlife.”

Freeport-McMoRan, which owned the Arroyo Grande oilfield before selling it to Sentinel Peak Resources, submitted the aquifer exemption application in 2015. California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources submitted the application to the EPA in February 2016 for final approval, and the agency approved it on April 30, 2019.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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