California’s fracking regulations found lacking

Posted by Christine, December 20, 2012

The Environmental Working Group finds positives and negatives:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has released a preliminary draft of regulations that for the first time would require oil and gas drilling companies in the state to report where they are using hydraulic fracturing technology and disclose what chemicals they are using.

Currently state officials and the public have no way of knowing when or where energy companies are using “fracking,” a widespread and potentially risky drilling technology that involves injecting huge volumes of chemical-laced water into the ground under intense pressure to break up rock formations and release trapped oil and/or gas.

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Bill Allayaud, Director of Government Affairs for EWG’s California office, said, “EWG is pleased that the Division held public meetings this year and has proceeded quickly to produce regulations. This release is an important milestone on the road to having fracking regulations for the first time in California. EWG welcomes the agency’s continued effort to keep the public involved as it develops its regulations.”

Allayaud added that EWG has not had time to thoroughly review the draft document, but a quick review reveals many positive features as well as potentially serious negatives in the path the agency is taking.

“We laud the provisions that require drillers to assess the local area around proposed fracking operations to ensure that existing oil or gas wells, geologic formations or groundwater will not be adversely affected,” Allayaud said. “Requiring drillers to reveal where they are fracking and to report the chemicals they use are basic necessities to assure that it will no longer be a secretive process.”

The Center for Biological Diversity finds five major flaws:

SAN FRANCISCO— Proposed regulations meant to govern fracking in California would do little to protect the state’s environment, wildlife, climate and public health, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Fracking — currently unmonitored in California — uses huge volumes of water mixed with dangerous chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas. Hundreds of wells have been fracked in California in recent years. Today’s draft proposal by California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources was supposed to be the first step in explicitly regulating this controversial practice.

“The Department of Conservation’s draft fracking rules do almost nothing to protect our air, water or climate,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “California faces huge environmental risks unless state officials halt this dangerous fracking boom.”

Among the biggest flaws in California’s draft fracking regulations:

1. Little regulatory protection for air, water and climate: The state’s draft regulations do nothing to protect people living near fracked wells from air pollutants that increase risks of cancer and respiratory illness. They do not protect residents from exposure to, or contamination by, the large volume of toxic wastewater fracking produces. They do not require well operators to use devices to capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The regulations completely ignore seismic risks, which science increasingly suggests are linked to fracking. Operators are even given five days to report an unauthorized release of chemical-laden fracking fluids.

2. No requirement to collect and disclose baseline data needed for effective regulation: Well operators would not be required to collect basic air-quality and water-quality data prior to fracking — data needed to effectively verify no damages occur from fracking.

3. Huge “Trade Secrets” loophole allows well operators to avoid disclosing use of dangerous fracking chemicals: Oil and gas companies could avoid disclosure merely by claiming that maintaining the secrecy of their chemical formulas gives them a competitive advantage. Health professionals would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement before obtaining the information to treat patients harmed by fracking chemicals.

4. No direct notification to people with homes or drinking water wells next to fracking wells: Oil and gas companies need only give state regulators 10 days’ notice of their fracking plans, and regulators need only give the public three days’ notice that fracking will occur by posting information to a website.

5. Public notification to occur on industry-linked website: California’s draft regulations require well operators to report fracking on FracFocus.org, a website with ties to the oil and gas industry that does not provide real transparency or accountability.

“These draft regulations would keep California’s fracking shrouded in secrecy and do little to contain the many threats posed by fracking,” Siegel said. “The rules are going to have to be completely rewritten if the goal is to provide real protection for our air, water and communities.”

Current California law already sets forth permitting requirements for subsurface injection that, if enforced, would preclude fracking, but the new regulations would remove fracking from this program.

“Because fracking is not allowed under the current but unenforced regulations, this proposal is worse than nothing,” said Siegel.

Fracking has been tied to water and air pollution in other states, and it releases huge quantities of methane. More than 600 wells in at least nine California counties were fracked in 2011 alone, and recent advances in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale, a geological formation holding an estimated 14 billion barrels of oil.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Clean Water Action calls for a moratorium until adequate regulations can be developed:

(San Francisco, CA) Calling DOGGR’s ‘discussion draft’ regulations, released Tuesday, woefully inadequate, Clean Water Action announced today that it has called upon the agency to issue a moratorium on any new hydraulic fracturing operations pending revision and adoption of
protective regulations, and an independent investigation into the potential impacts of fracking in
California.

In a December 18 letter to the DOC and its Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources
(DOGGR), Clean Water Action and allies called for a moratorium on the oil and gas extraction
process also known as fracking. There has been little independent scientific review of the
potential impacts of fracking on California, and the process in other states has been linked to air
and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, induced seismic activity, massive water use, and dangerous worker conditions. The Brown Administration has remained steadfast in its stated intent to allow increased levels of fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques in California.

Clean Water Action program organizer Andrew Grinberg believes a moratorium is needed during the process of developing regulation. “Regulations could take many months or even years to adopt. Meanwhile fracking would be allowed with no safeguards in place.” He also expressed concern over the “discussion draft” regulations, released Tuesday. “These proposed regulations are woefully inadequate. Until the state can demonstrate that they are up to the challenge of protecting the health of our citizens and the preventing harm to air and water quality, we call on this agency to stop all fracking and similar dangerous oil and gas extraction operations in California.”