“Governor Brown’s use of already strained state resources, for his own personal oil well holdings is an abuse of the State’s resources. This map was created during a drought, at a time when California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) was improperly approving injection well permits to dispose of toxic waste water directly into pristine aquifers” stated R. Rex Parris.
This isn’t the first time Governor Brown threatened to fire a state oil and gas regulator because they didn’t fall in line. In a recent declaration, former Acting Director of the California Department of Conservation Derek Chernow testified that he was fired because Governor Brown was under pressure from Occidental Oil & Gas Corporation to speed up the permitting of underground injection wells; even though DOGGR didn’t have the federally mandated engineering and geological studies in order to approve the permits.
The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water, a citizen organization comprised of farmers and individuals concerned about California’s drinking water, filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) complaint in Federal Court. The RICO Complaint alleges that Governor Jerry Brown’s office ordered the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The lawsuit alleges that “The Oil Companies, Governor’s Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an “enterprise” (“the Enterprise”) to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
“The Enterprise sought to minimize labor expenses that would have arisen if they followed the law while at the same time taking federal funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Because of these actions, the Enterprise deprived members of the Committee to Protect Agricultural Water fresh water, fair opportunities to earn an income, and honest government services,” said lead attorney R. Rex Parris.
“In the summer of 2012, sodium chloride (salt) levels increased to such a level, the salt started damaging orchards. By the end of the year, one local farmer had to remove his cherry trees.” “California is experiencing the greatest drought of this generation, and protecting fresh water is of paramount concern,” added Parris.
“This landmark RICO lawsuit against the state of California, DOGGR, and the Oil Companies is certain to have far-reaching implications,” said lead attorney R. Rex Parris. According to the complaint, “Timothy Kustic promised oil companies a “flexible” approach to approving permits. As a result, permit approvals went from the typical 50 permits a year to 1,575 permits in 2012 alone,” stated Parris.
Parris added, “The oil companies, refused to provide geological and engineering studies, showing the safety of injecting contaminated water into aquifers. “Every month, Occidental and Chevron directly pump 2.63 times more toxic waste water into the San Joaquin Aquifer than oil released into the Gulf during the entire BP spill. Much of this water is then added to the water in the California aqueduct and distributed to homes throughout Southern California.” said Parris.
According to the complaint, “In 2015, Defendant Mark Nechodom testified before the California Senate, telling them that DOGGR had not focused on whether oil companies directly injected into federally protected waters (specifically aquifers not exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act) because DOGGR was so focused on hydraulic fracturing.”
However, this was not what was happening when Governor Brown asked that DOGGR employees create a map showing his oil holdings. It also was not how former State Oil & Gas Supervisor (Kustic) described the status of the underground injection control (UIC) program on June 7, 2012. Kustic reassured the United States Environmental Protection Agency the opposite: telling them that hydraulic fracturing had the media’s attention, but “the bulk of our resources are going towards the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program improvements.
The lawsuit alleges that “Lorelei Oviatt, the Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department, knew of complaints by farmers and of environmental problems before anyone else in the community. She used her position to delay public notice of the problems and to block efforts to adopt environmental laws protecting Kern County residents.” “Nechodom exchanged emails with Oviatt in which he thanked Oviatt for her support. Nechodom noted that he was “delighted to have you and Kern Co. as a partner (unindicted co-conspirator?).” (Emphasis added.) Oviatt agreed with Nechodom in email - “We all have the same goal.”
“To avoid discovery, Defendants also engaged in a widespread scheme to frustrate public scrutiny by making false and deceptive statements and concealing documents (including documents under the California Public Records Act.) DOGGR and Defendants Brown, Kustic, and Oviatt suppressed research, destroyed documents, and refused to provide all information requested under the California Public Records Act,” said Parris.
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.” See, Ca. Gov. Code § 11120,” said Parris.
“By violating these laws, rules, and regulations, the Oil Companies are causing unnecessary destruction of agriculture and farmland. The Oil Companies, moreover, are unnecessarily polluting the air, land, and water in Kern County,” concluded Parris.