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California Issues More Changes to Fracking Rules

California oil/natural gas regulators on Thursday issued yet another set of draft well stimulation rules, including for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), making further refinements based on nearly 200,000 comments that have been accumulated in the past 10 months. One change has raised the proposed threshold level for seismic activity tied to well stimulation to 2.7 from a previously proposed level of 2.0.

The 32-page revised set of rules is a new iteration of earlier draft revisions in June from the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). New definitions and expanded requirements were packed in a 29-page draft at that time (see Shale Daily, June 16), and some of those have now been revised again.

An interim set of rules has been effective since Jan. 1 with the knowledge that permanent ones would be implemented July 1, 2015. DOGGR's implementation is following detailed steps outlined in California's fracking law (SB 4) passed last year (see Shale Daily, Dec. 12, 2013).

The latest, third version of draft regulations covering everything from well maintenance, well stimulation, public notifications, groundwater testing/monitoring, seismic monitoring/reporting and a host of public disclosure requirements will be out for a 15-day public comment period, closing Oct. 24.

"We made significant changes between  the first and second versions after we reviewed tens of thousands of public comments and conducted several public hearings," said Department of Conservation Director Mark Nechodom, characterizing the latest changes as "technical refinements" and adding that the current basic structure of the regulations is "sound and comprehensive."

Nechodom's chief department deputy director, Jason Marshall, outlined the new draft rules in a conference call Thursday, and he characterized the voluminous comments on the drafts so far as balanced between industry, stakeholders, public officials and the general public. In changing the seismic reporting threshold, for example, Marshall said professional geologists with the state and universities suggested the previous 2.0 level was too low for pinpointing actual underground movements.

Highlights of the changes include:

  • Neighboring parties may request a pre-well stimulation water quality test any time prior to the stimulation;
  • Regarding the use of acid and pressure, operators will be allowed to submit aggregate information for "very routine operations";
  • More precise models will be required for estimating the length and direction of hydraulic fracturings; and
  • Operators will be allowed to simultaneously pursue permits from DOGGR and the state Water Resources Control Board, which will oversee groundwater testing and monitoring.

The current interim regulations are in place and will be effective until July 1 next year. Since the interim regulations went into effect, DOGGR has receive 991 well stimulation treatment notices, and 391 post-well stimulation reports, which must be submitted to the state agency within 60 days of an operation.

During the conference call Marshall was asked if a lot of neighbors to ongoing well stimulation projects have been asking for groundwater monitoring, and his answer was basically “no,” because most of the ongoing permitted fracking is taking place is the sparsely populated west side of Kern County in the state's San Joaquin Valley.

"We have not seen a lot of requests," said Marshall, underscoring that the location of the drilling may be the principal reason for this relative silence of neighbors. "If there are 'neighbors' in western Kern County, they likely would be other oil/gas operators."

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