Existing law establishes the Geologic Energy Management Division in the Department of Conservation, under the direction of the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, who is required to supervise the drilling, operation, maintenance, and abandonment of oil and gas wells, as provided.
Existing law requires an action for civil penalties or punitive damages authorized pursuant to specified environmental protection laws to be commenced within 5 years after discovery by the agency bringing the action, as provided.This bill would make that statute of limitations applicable to the oil and gas laws, as provided. Existing law requires the supervisor to order tests and remedial work that in the supervisor’s judgment are necessary to prevent damage to life, health, property, and natural resources and for other specified reasons.
This bill would provide that an order to undertake remedial work issued pursuant to this requirement may include an order to cease and desist specified activities that threaten to damage life, health, property, and natural resources or that violate the requirements relating to oil and gas or a regulation implementing these requirements.
The bill would also authorize the supervisor, after making a determination, based upon a site inspection, that a well poses a risk to life, health, property, or natural resources, to order an operator, owner, or property owner to secure the site, as provided, if certain conditions apply. The order would be appealable. The bill would make an operator, owner, or property owner who fails to comply subject to a civil penalty of up to $25,000.
Existing law makes it a crime for an owner or operator, or an employee thereof, to refuse to permit the supervisor or the district deputy, or that person’s inspector, to inspect a well, or willfully hinder or delay the enforcement of the requirements relating to oil and gas. Existing law makes every person who violates, fails, neglects, or refuses to comply with the provisions relating to oil and gas, or who fails or neglects or refuses to furnish any report or record which may be required pursuant to these provisions, or who willfully renders a false or fraudulent report, guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than $100, nor more than $1,000, or by imprisonment for not exceeding 6 months, or by both that fine and imprisonment, for each offense. Existing law establishes the Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Administrative Fund in the State Treasury for specified purposes, subject to appropriation by the Legislature, except as provided.
Existing law also establishes, and requires the division to administer and manage, the Oil and Gas Environmental Remediation Account in the Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Administrative Fund. Existing law requires moneys in the account to be used, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for specified purposes.
This bill would make an owner or operator, or an employee of the owner or operator, and every person, as described, who commits the acts described above, subject to the penalties set forth in the bill. The bill would additionally make it a misdemeanor for that owner, operator, employee, or other person as described to make a false statement or representation in an application, record, report, permit, notice to comply, or other document filed, maintained, or used for the purposes of compliance with the laws governing oil and gas wells, to destroy, alter, or conceal any record required to be maintained pursuant to those laws, or to withhold information regarding a real and substantial danger to the public health, natural resources, or safety under a specified circumstance.
The bill would increase the fine for violating this provision from $1,000 to not less than $2,000, nor more than $25,000, for each day of violation. The bill would also impose, for a second or subsequent violation, imprisonment for 16, 20, or 24 months, as described, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $50,000 for each day of violation, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If the violation caused great bodily injury, or caused a substantial probability that death could result, the bill would impose a penalty of imprisonment for one, 2, or 3 years, in addition and consecutive to the other prescribed terms and would authorize a fine of up to $250,000 for each day of violation. Each day or partial day that a violation occurs would be a separate violation. By expanding the scope of crimes, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
The bill would also require a person convicted of committing the acts described above to pay an additional fine in an amount equal to the cost to plug and abandon any well associated with the violation in an amount determined by the supervisor using any reasonable method, as provided. The bill would require the penalties collected pursuant to these provisions to be deposited in the Oil and Gas Environmental Remediation Account.
Existing law authorizes the supervisor to impose specified civil penalties on a person who violates a legal requirement regarding the operation of an oil and gas well or production facility, which is in addition to any other penalty provided by law for the violation. This bill would specify that the civil penalty imposed by the supervisor is an administrative civil penalty.The bill would also impose a civil penalty of not more than $50,000 for each violation of an the oil and gas law or regulation and each violation of an order issued pursuant to the oil and gas laws.
The bill would impose a civil penalty not to exceed $70,000 for intentionally or negligently violating a provision of oil and gas laws, or a permit, rule, regulation, standard, or requirement issued or promulgated pursuant to those laws. The bill would authorize a district attorney, city attorney, or the Attorney General, upon referral by the supervisor, to bring a civil action. The bill would require 50% of the civil penalties collected be paid to the agency or office prosecuting the action and 50% be deposited in the Oil and Gas Environmental Remediation Account.
The bill would specify that the violator is only subject to either the administrative civil penalty imposed by the supervisor or the civil penalty imposed by the court, and not to both penalties. The bill would authorize the supervisor to recover from the owner or operator all prosecution and enforcement costs incurred by the division arising from the administration and enforcement of those requirements and would require moneys recovered to be deposited into the Oil and Gas Environmental Remediation Account.
The bill would also authorize the supervisor to apply to the superior court for an order enjoining acts or practices that violate the oil and gas laws, or violate a regulation, condition of approval, order, or other requirement issued, promulgated, or executed under those laws, as provided. The bill would also authorize a district attorney or city attorney, as specified, or the Attorney General to apply for that injunctive order.
Committee Location: Natural Resources and Judiciary committees.
Full bill text and related information.