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California Releases Draft Fracking Rules

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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, November 15, 2013

Sacramento, Calif. – The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources has today issued draft rules that will, for the first time ever, regulate all forms of oil and gas well drilling in the state, including the controversial practices of hydraulic fracturing and acidization. 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a oil and gas extraction technique during which drillers inject chemicals and water under extremely high pressures into a geologic formation to fracture the rock and increase the flow of hydrocarbons to the surface.   Acidization, a less well-known practice, involves injecting hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid underground to dissolve rock and send hydrocarbons to the surface.   

“After 60 years of fracking and acidizing wells in California without permits, monitoring, or essentially any government oversight of these practices, we are finally closer to having our state regulatory agency do its job,” Bill Allayaud, California director of government affairs for EWG, said.  “These draft regulations are an important step in the right direction. However, until it is clear that fracking can truly be done safely and not endanger the health and safety of the public and the environment once strong regulations are adopted, EWG is joining the call for the Governor to declare a moratorium on fracking and acidization.”

Key positive features in the draft regulations made public by the division include:

  • Companies must get permission from the state before they can perform well stimulation activities such as fracking and acidization.
  • Adjacent property owners and tenants must be given notice before drillers perform well stimulation, including for horizontal drilling.
  • Property owners can have the quality of their water in their well tested before and after the driller performs well stimulation.  
  • The amount of water estimated to be used in fracking and acidization must be disclosed, as well as the disposal method for wastewater.
  •  The names of all chemicals injected into the earth must be disclosed to the public and cannot be claimed as trade secrets.  

While EWG is still examining the draft rules, our initial review identified several important shortcomings:  

  •  The regulations appear to fully exempt acid matrix stimulations that use fluids with less than 7% acid, which is problematic.  
  •  While companies will be required to disclose the names of chemicals used in fracking, the volumes and the concentrations of these chemicals may be able to be kept secret.
  •  Because of the very narrow definition of “well stimulation” vs. “routine maintenance,” the draft regulations could create a loophole where some types of drilling could escape regulations.
  •  The draft regulations contain a narrow definition of “protected water” that could leave other key water resources in the state under protected.
  •  Property owners and tenants living near wells will be given very short notice before fracking or acidization takes place.
  •  Only property owners and tenants living within a relatively small radius of the wellhead or underground frack job will receive notice.
  •  The draft regulations contain nothing to explore the potential connection between fracking and underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes.
  •  Lingering questions remain about how the regulations will interact with the California Environmental Quality Act.
  •  The public is given very little time to comment on the proposed regulations and the agency has rejected requests to extend the comment period.

EWG brought the issue of unregulated fracking in California to the forefront in 2011 and has worked since that time to force the state to regulate all forms of oil and gas drilling.