California is the third largest oil producing State and in the top fifteen for natural gas with its oil and gas development and production facilities concentrated in Kern County and the Central Valley. Many producing fields are also located in coastal areas including Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Santa Barbara County and others as well as offshore where allowed. There are currently approximately 50,000 actively producing oil and gas wells in the State. In the last few years the practice of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially referred to as “fracking”, of oil and gas wells to facilitate the production of oil and gas has come under severe scrutiny and the object of great controversy. Proponents argue that the practice of hydraulic fracturing promotes energy independence, provides jobs and is entirely safe. Opponents argue that frocking contaminates the air, water and soil resulting in adverse impacts to public and environmental health and welfare. The practice of hydraulic fracturing injects a fluid – a mixture of water and undisclosed chemicals – into an underground geologic formation at pressures strong enough to enhance fractures within the formation thereby increasing access to hydrocarbons trapped in the formation. Fracking is one form of a process referred to as “well stimulation treatment”. Others include such things as acid-based treatments. Recent projections suggest that some of the largest oil reserves in the country are located in the Monterey Shale formation and that utilizing well stimulation treatments could result in substantial increases in oil production and an economic boom.
The California State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources which is the State’s Oil and Gas Regulator, a Division within the Department of Conservation, is responsible for regulating the drilling, operation, maintenance, stimulation, abandonment of oil and gas wells, the operation and maintenance of tanks and facilities related to oil and gas production in an oil and gas field, the removal or abandonment of tanks or facilities in an oil and gas field and issues regarding public safety and environmental damage in the State. The Division is headed by the State Oil and Gas Supervisor who has the broad authority to regulate the oil and gas industry “to prevent, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property and natural resources”, etc. (Public Resources Code 3106). Any operator wishing to perform well-stimulating treatment on a well must first obtain approval from the Supervisor. Under existing law, any person violating any prohibition specific to regulations of oil or gas operations is guilty of a misdemeanor – a slap on the hand for something that did, or could have, caused serious public harm or environmental damage.
Despite this range of regulatory responsibility and authority allotted to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, in 2011 they could answer none of the questions posed to it by State Senator Pavley relating to the practice of hydraulic fracturing. In the following years there have been numerous attempts to either require the Division to take on the responsibility to regulate the practice of well stimulation or, in absence of doing so, have the practice of well stimulation banned. In September 2013, Governor Brown signed SB 4, into law. The law provided emergency interim regulations governing well stimulation practices effective January 1, 2014 requiring that:
* The Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency order an independent scientific study of all aspects of well stimulation treatments to be completed by January 1, 2015 including acid well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing
* The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources finalize and implement regulations relating to well stimulation treatments by January 1, 2015
* The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources conduct an Environmental Impact Report to be certified by July 1, 2015
* The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has the authority to impose site-specific mitigations for projects conducting well stimulation treatments during the interim period
* Groundwater monitoring be conducted for wells subject to well stimulation treatments
* The CHEMICALS used in the well treatment process be disclosed to the public.
* Both pre- and post-stimulation reports related to the well treatment process be disclosed to the PUBLIC, including but not limited to, DISPOSITION OF the chemicals and water used during the well stimulation process and baseline with follow-up water quality testing
* Surrounding neighbors be notified in advance before commencing with well stimulation procedures
In late February 2014, State Senator Leno presented a Bill calling for the mitigation of negative environmental and/or public health impacts as a result of Oil and Gas Well Stimulation activities. This Bill failed in the State Senate by a vote of 16 ayes to 16 noes. Why did this happen? How did this happen? I will be presenting a series of articles that will go through a step by step account of what happened from the date of this Bill’s introduction to the final date of “failure”.
This Bill, SB 1132, had it been approved, would have extended the timeline for concluding the scientific study to June 30, 2016, but would also have required additional items to be considered including the evaluation of various potential direct, indirect and cumulative health and environmental impacts of on-shore and off-shore well stimulation and well stimulation treatment-related activities. The Bill would have PROHIBITED all well stimulation treatments until:
* The Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency had formed a committee to review the scientific study which was to be conducted and completed with full public participation
* A Committee of executive agency members had certified, with public participation, that the study is final and that well stimulation poses no risk to, or impairment of, public health and welfare or the environmental and economic sustainability of the State
* The Governor determined that measures were in place to ensure that well stimulation treatments would not create adverse impacts to public health and the environment or IF those well stimulation treatments were to result in adverse impacts they be mitigated to minimize those impacts
* The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources had prepared an Environmental Impact Report
Were any of the above criteria not been met, the moratorium on well stimulation practices would have stayed in effect.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water met in early April 2014 to review the proposed Bill.
Editor’s Note: Elektra Kruger is a community activist who sits on the FTDNC and STNC Land Use Committees and writes for the NVR.