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California Releases Draft Hydraulic Fracturing Standards on Testing, Monitoring, Disclosure

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES--California oil and gas regulators released draft regulations Dec. 18 on hydraulic fracturing activities.

The release of the draft regulations does not launch an official rulemaking process, according to the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). Rather, it begins a public discussion of the nine-page document in preparation for the formal rulemaking that will probably begin in early 2013, the agency said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals into shale formations at high pressure to enhance oil and natural gas extraction.

Environmental groups and others concerned about the expanded use of the process in California and elsewhere are pressing federal and state regulators for aggressive controls to prevent environmental harm, particularly to underground water supplies.

The proposed regulations would “spell out what you need to do when you engage in hydraulic fracturing,” Jason Marshal, chief deputy director of the Department of Conservation, told reporters on a conference call.

Posted on DOGGR's website, the proposed rules would set standards for pre-fracturing testing to ensure wells and cement casings can withstand the high pressures. Other provisions would require 10-day notice to state regulators; monitoring during and after fracturing operations; and disclosure of well locations and chemicals used to FracFocus.org. The rules also would clarify state law and regulations on the handling and storage of fracturing fluids.

Chemicals deemed “trade secrets” would only have to be publicly disclosed in the event of a spill or accidental release, as needed for an emergency response or for medical treatments.

Repurposing of Current Standards

Much of the proposal repurposes existing standards that apply to construction of oil and gas wells to ensure the cement casings would adequately prevent chemicals and other pollutants from tainting underground water supplies.

DOGGR is not proposing to require hydraulic fracturing-specific permits, Marshall said. The draft regulations are consistent with current state oil and gas regulations, which focus on the construction of the wells and the various activities related to the wells, Marshall said.

Much of the proposal focuses on ensuring the integrity of the cement casings, which would protect underground water supplies, during and after the fracking activities and when wells are used store wastewater.

One provision that would be unique to California is the requirement for evaluation of wells near the hydraulic fracturing operations.

Fracking has been used in California for decades, mostly for the recovery of oil, not natural gas. While state regulators and industry claim the state's rules governing oil and gas drilling are adequately protective, the state has never required disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking or the location of the activities.

Group Says Risks Not Addressed

In a written statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said the draft regulations “do little to protect the state's environment, wildlife, climate and public health.”

“California faces huge environmental risks unless state officials halt this dangerous fracking boom,” Kassie Siegal, an attorney for the center said.

The proposed regulations lack measures to protect people living nearby from harmful air pollutants and toxic wastewater, nor do they require the capture of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the center said. Other flaws in the proposal give well operators a “trade secrets” loophole to avoid reporting dangerous chemicals and fail to require public notification of fracking activities.

DOGGR does not have authority to adopt air pollution and water quality measures for hydraulic fracturing activities, the Department of Conservation's Marshall said. Those measures would have to be addressed by other state and local regulators, he said.

The agency said it plans to schedule several public workshops prior to launching the formal rulemaking process.

By Carolyn Whetzel  


The proposed regulations and related materials are available at

http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/Index.aspx.

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