California Agency to Propose Regulations This Fall to Govern Hydraulic Fracturing

DIAMOND BAR, Calif.--California's oil and gas regulator will propose rules governing hydraulic fracturing activities this fall, Tim Kustic of the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), said Sept. 18.

The proposal is just beginning to take shape, Kustic said at a hydraulic fracturing forum where state and federal officials, oil industry representatives, and others aired concerns about the rapidly expanding process used to extract oil and natural gas.

Kustic said the proposal will include provisions requiring oil and gas producers to notify DOGGR and others when using hydraulic fracturing at existing wells, to disclose the chemicals and other fluids used when fracking, to take steps to protect groundwater supplies, and to ensure fracking activities do not adversely affect the integrity of nearby wells.

As part of the process, DOGGR also is reexamining existing regulations governing the construction of oil and gas wells.

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

Fracking has been in use in California for decades, mostly for the recovery of oil, not natural gas.

Public Concern Prompted Examination

Public concern over the increased interest in using the process to develop oil resources in the Monterey Shale prompted Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to direct DOGGR to examine the state's oil and gas regulations.

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials organized the hydraulic fracturing forum to examine the potential environmental and public health impacts of expanded oil and gas production at existing wells in the Los Angeles air basin.

Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association told attendees that the industry supports regulations that require producers to disclose the chemicals used during fracking. Zierman also pointed out that California's existing well construction regulations are among the toughest in the nation.

“As long as the cement casing is done properly,” groundwater should be protected, Zierman said.

“DOGGR has embarked on a very thoughtful, thorough process,” Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association said. Local regulators, including the SCAQMD, should wait until the state regulations--as well as federal rulemaking efforts--are complete before addressing fracking activities to avoid potential conflicts, Hull added.

Environmental groups called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in California until the state regulations are implemented.

So far, legislative efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing have failed.

DOGGR's Kustic said language in bills that failed in the session that ended Aug. 31, which sought to mandate disclosure of chemicals and impose notification requirements, is being considered for the proposed regulations.

By Carolyn Whetzel