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California: The Wild West of Fracking

Monday, March 5, 2012

In some states, oil and gas companies have begun to face (gasp!) some basic regulations, such as required reporting of where and when they hydraulically fracture (or "frack") wells, and even disclosure of the chemicals they use. But in California, drillers can do whatever they please, wherever they please.

That's because the state agency in charge of regulating the industry, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, is asleep at the wheel. Until recently, the Division, known as DOGGR for short, has essentially denied that fracking is taking place in California. But EWG's research shows that it's been going on since at least 1953.

In 2010, the division actually requested and received $3 million in its budget for the purpose of regulating, among other things, hydraulic fracturing. But - and here's the kicker - agency officials say that even with the money in hand, they won't write regulations on fracking until and unless the legislature orders it or until (this is my favorite part) there is "evidence of manifest damage or harm."

As someone who just moved to the Golden State, I don't find this comforting. Just ask residents of Dimock, Penn., whose water supply became contaminated after nearby drilling, if fracking should be regulated before or after "manifest damage."

In government-mandated filings, oil and gas companies admit that there are risks associated with fracking, including spills, explosions, environmental damage, injury and even death. And don't forget that fracking is a water-intensive process and has been associated with earthquakes in other places.

California residents deserve to know where and when fracking is happening. They also deserve the peace of mind of knowing that state regulators are watching to ensure that drillers use best practices and that ecosystems and human health are protected. DOGGR needs to find out where and how fracking is happening California and not wait until there is confirmed damage to resources or people.

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