Panel Passes Expanded Fracking Bill

By Published On: July 5, 2013

Legislation to comprehensively regulate hydraulic fracturing, and now other methods of stimulating oil and gas production in California, cleared the Assembly Natural Resources Committee July 1. SB 4, authored by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), breezed through the panel on a 6-3 vote after the Los Angeles area Democrat agreed to incorporate minor technical amendments. They clarify that the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources will collect fees needed from drillers to fund the multiagency regulatory regime outlined in measure. The amendments also aim at enhancing groundwater monitoring required by the bill. “It’s a comprehensive approach to regulating fracking, acid stimulation, and other forms of well stimulation in California,” Pavley told the committee. Concerns about fracking and other hydrocarbon drilling stimulation techniques range from the possibility that chemicals injected down wells could contaminate groundwater, to emissions of pollution to the air and the unknowns about the fate of toxic waste produced at drilling sites. To address those concerns, the division has been working to develop regulations, but many community leaders, lawmakers, and environmentalists have criticized the process as too slow and the rules under consideration as inadequate. The division of oil and gas “needs direction,” said Bill Allayaud, Environmental Working Group director of California government affairs. Pavley said the division’s draft rules “should be stronger” and that her legislation will insure they are. Her bill comes as the division is developing its own regulations to cover the practice of fracking in advance of what’s expected to be a major shale oil play in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles area. Combined, those two areas are considered the largest shale oil resource in the nation, bigger than the Bakken formation, centered in North Dakota. The two California shale formations—known as the Lower Monterey in San Joaquin Valley and the Santos around Los Angeles—are estimated to hold 15 billion barrels of oil, which amounts to two-thirds of the nation’s known shale oil resources, according to a committee staff report. That’s enough oil to meet the state’s needs for 21 years, according to the committee document. Before being presented to the committee, Pavley’s bill was broadened to cover well stimulation beyond traditional fracking, in which fluid is injected under high pressure down wells after they are drilled to split the rock and create channels through which hydrocarbons can flow to the ground. The Senator told the committee this is necessary because 80 percent of the wells drilled into the shale formations may rely on acid stimulation, according to testimony given by oil and gas industry representatives at a recent hearing. That technique involves pumping acid down into wells to dissolve the limestone, dolomite, and calcite that act like cement between the grains of sediment in hydrocarbon bearing shale formations. Under Pavley’s bill, the division would have to establish a permitting system by 2015 for well drilling involving stimulation techniques. Groundwater monitoring before and after drilling would be required to detect whether the oil and gas operations caused contamination. In addition, the measure would require an independent study of well stimulation processes to outline potential threats and identify ways to address them. Oil and gas drillers would be required to post on a public website the ingredients of various fluids used in stimulating wells, though not the precise formulas, which are considered trade secrets. Waste from the drilling operations would have to be tracked to show its final disposition. Finally, among other requirements, the division would have to coordinate in developing and enforcing regulations with other state agencies in charge of air pollution, water quality, and toxic waste management.

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