Californians can expect a huge boom in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to extract oil from the state's massive shale beds. That boom is likely to begin in a year and will generate a lively battle between those who want money and those who want the strictest fracking regulations in U.S history.
According to a Jan. 7 article at the NRDC Switchboard, "As in many other parts of the country, the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is booming in California. Most of the fracking in California is for oil rather than natural gas, but we face the same risks to our air, water, and land from fracking and other forms of oil development."
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) enabled vastly more oil extraction when the agency released 18,000 acres of California's huge Monterey shale field. This enticing new shale formation lies under California's Central Valley at San Benito and Monterey counties. The shale could yield up to 15.5 billion barrels of oil that can only be extracted by hydraulic fracturing.
When compared to oil extraction, natural gas fracking is a much more volatile and controversial process. The difference may be why California's oil fracking industry did not attract a lot of attention until the BLM expanded drilling rights in one of the state's most valuable and environmentally precious regions.
It is widely known that California has allowed fracking operations since the 1960s, mostly for oil extraction in the southern portion of the state. The bulk of California's fracking wells are in Kern, Inglewood, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. In the past year, 628 California well operators used fracking to extract oil from shale.
The fracking process will be much more controversial in 2013 because the people are demanding oversight and regulation. There is or no real federal regulation on fracking and Governor Jerry Brown has been disposed to relaxing existing state codes. Local counties and communities have always battled the powerful oil and gas industry on their own.
Attitudes toward regulating the fracking process have changed now that the Governor, the oil and gas industry and a surprising number of Californians want the profit, jobs and money from fracking. Nevertheless, most Californians also want strong regulation and oversight before they will allow expanded drilling.
Now that the state government is serious about regulation and oversight, the California Department of Conservation has published a draft regulation. So far, the draft includes the following provisions:
Energy companies would be required to disclose their fracking plans to the state 10 days before starting operations. The draft regulation has a three-day public notice deadline. Adjacent property owners do not get special notifications.
The oil and gas companies would maintain an online database with the work locations. The industry proposed using the FracFocus chemical disclosure registry website. However, the website does not have to comply with California public records laws and has no oversight by state agencies.
The companies would be required to disclose the type and volume of chemicals used in the fracking operations. Oil and gas companies tend to claim that the chemical compositions are trade secrets. The draft regulation requires a company to release the information if there are spills or illness related to chemical exposure.
While the draft regulation has rules for testing and monitoring their wells, there is no requirement to conduct "before and after" groundwater testing. Operators would be required to monitor their wells and to stop operations if they notice pressure changes and other issues that could indicate leaks or other accidents.
Operators would be required to monitor wells for 30 days after the operations and on a monthly basis for five years after operations.
Missing from the draft regulations are any requirements to restore the land to a natural state after the wells are no longer productive. In addition, there are no restrictions on the concentration and number of wells installed.
An Aug.15, 2012 article in Daily Kos revealed that oil shale extraction wells might not be the most productive operations, which leads to greater concentrations of wells in an area. The draft regulation does not address the well concentration and land restoration issues, and this is a major problem.
Add California to the list of states that will undergo a major boom in oil extraction by fracking. The California Department of Conservation website will provide updates to the draft regulation.