The draft regulations on fracking would require state permits, testing of groundwater and notification of neighbors, and are called the toughest in the U.S.
By Marc Lifsher, November 15, 2013
Hailed by state officials as the toughest in the nation, the draft
regulations issued Friday would require those who conduct fracking to
get state permits, test groundwater quality and notify neighbors before
SACRAMENTO — The Brown
administration has released much-anticipated proposed rules for
fracking, a controversial technique for drilling for oil and natural gas
reviled by environmentalists.
The process, formally
known as hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping water, sand and a
mixture of chemicals into geological strata to free trapped
Supporters say that it is opening up a vast new energy source and
creating high-paying jobs. Opponents contend that fracking could pollute
underground drinking water supplies and cause health hazards.
Hailed by state officials as
the toughest in the nation, the draft regulations issued Friday would
require those who conduct fracking to get state permits, test
groundwater quality and notify neighbors before starting work. The
regulations cover fracking and related techniques, and they provide
substantial new public information about where and how fracking is
"We believe that once these proposed regulations go into effect at
the start of 2015, we will have in place the strongest environmental and
public health protections of any oil- and gas-producing state in the
nation, while also ensuring that a key element in California's economy
can maintain its productivity," said Mark Nechodom, director of the
state Department of Conservation.
California is the country's third-largest oil- and gas-producing state.
Environmentalists contend that fracking could pollute drinking water
wells, endanger public health and release greenhouse gases that
contribute to global warming.
What's needed now, they said, is a statewide ban on fracking and
related techniques until scientists can provide firm assurances that the
practice won't cause harm.
"We want a timeout," said Kathryn Phillips, state director of the
Sierra Club. "At best, these regulations can be described as a mixed
bag," she said. "At worst, they provide another example of an agency's
continued deference to a regulated entity, even at the expense of public
health and the environment."
Nevertheless, even some opponents conceded that the proposed regulations were better than nothing.
"There are some good provisions from our very preliminary review," said Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group.
Friday's proposed regulations were in response to a state law
approved by the Legislature this year. In addition, the new law — by
Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) — mandates that the state conduct an
independent scientific study of the pros and cons of fracking.
The oil industry fought regulations in the Legislature, but fracking
proponents say that they are comfortable with Friday's proposal.
"These regulations are extensive but strike the
right balance," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western
States Petroleum Assn., a trade group. They "will ensure that the
potential energy resources contained in the Monterey Shale formation can
be responsibly developed."
Fracking, the oil industry and business groups counter, could be a bonanza.
They cite studies that estimate that fracking could spur the recovery
of 14 billion barrels of oil locked deep underground in the Monterey
Shale Formation, stretching from the Central Coast to the southern San
Joaquin Valley. It also could create 2.8 million jobs and $25 billion in
additional state and local government revenues.
The Department of Conservation, officials said, plans to work closely
with the Air Resources Board and regional water boards to track any
potential environmental problems at oil fields and drilling sites. Well
water would be regularly monitored during and after drilling, and the
names and concentrations of chemicals used would be made public on the
Fracking has been going on for half a century in oil-producing
regions of California, but with no special oversight by state
regulators. That changed earlier this year, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed
The governor's energy policy has been a mix of supporting increased
oil production and expansion of the state's legal goal of producing at
least a third of its electric power from nonpolluting, renewable
sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2020. Fracking, Brown said,
should be encouraged as long as it is safe.
Friday's unveiling of the proposed regulations starts a 60-day public
comment period with a series of hearings scheduled for January in
Sacramento, Long Beach, Bakersfield, Salinas and Santa Maria, the
Department of Conservation said.
Work on the current draft rules must be completed by Jan. 1, 2015.
Oil producers must begin complying with similarly worded interim,
emergency regulations as of next January.
Pavley guardedly welcomed Friday's proposal. "I look forward to a
thorough review of the proposed long-term regulations," she said, "and
the forthcoming emergency regulations, which are necessary first steps
to end unregulated fracking."