ELC Challenges State’s Failure to Analyze Oil and Gas Well Impacts

Despite its reputation as a leader in environmental protection, California is home to tens of thousands of oil and gas wells across the state. These oil and gas wells have widespread impacts—harming public health, destroying critical habitat, polluting water and air, and emitting damaging greenhouse gases. And yet each year, the California Department of Conservation, Geologic Energy Management Division (“CalGEM”) approves thousands of oil and gas permits without any environmental review.

In response to this persistent failure to comply with the legal obligations under the California Environmental Quality Act, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit alleging that CalGEM has a pattern and practice of approving oil and gas permits without conducting the required environmental analysis.  Through this lawsuit, the Center is trying to avoid a “whac-a-mole” situation with CalGEM: rather than challenging each individual past or future permitting decision, the Center is seeking declaratory relief to halt CalGEM’s pattern and practice of eschewing environmental review in permitting decisions.

On December 22, 2021, the Alameda County Superior Court rejected CalGEM and an oil-industry lobbying group’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing this important case limiting environmental impacts from oil and gas wells to proceed.

ELC students Carly E. Rasmussen and Rachel Bowanko worked with the Center for Biological Diversity to draft the opposition brief to CalGEM’s motion to dismiss.  Rachel Bowanko then prepared for and presented oral argument in Alameda County Superior Court alongside Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The clinic student team spent countless hours drafting responses to CalGEM’s motion and preparing and mooting the best arguments. “I am humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to present oral argument as a law student,” Rachel reflected about her experience. “I am thankful to everyone at the Environmental Law Clinic, the Center, and the rest of the Team for their guidance, support, and tireless commitment to the case (the hearing was postponed on more than one occasion so we did more moots than I can count!) This has been the greatest learning opportunity provided to me thus far at SLS.”