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California Releases Positive Reviews on Well Stimulation Rules

In anticipation of a mid-year effective date for the state's new well stimulation rules, which cover hydraulic fracturing, California's Department of Conservation (DOC) on Wednesday released a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) and separately the results of an independent scientific assessment commissioned by the state. The DEIR concludes that most impacts can be mitigated.

Well stimulation can safely continue statewide, state officials have concluded from the DEIR results. The still-developing, three-part scientific assessment's initial report concludes that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) will continue to be part of the state's oil/gas production and those activities differ markedly from fracking's use in other states.

Both documents are part of the concluding steps needed to put in place the state's regulatory scheme for well stimulation that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law (SB 4) in September 2013 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 23, 2013).

Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President Catherine Reheis-Boyd cautiously welcomed the DEIR, adding that WSPA and its members will be reviewing it in detail and participating in the public comment workshops. She said it marks a milestone in meeting deadlines for SB 4’s implementation.

"While we are pleased with the state's process on implementing SB 4, it is important to note the DEIR contemplates hypothetical development scenarios and provides a high level review. To date, well stimulation in California has never been associated with any known adverse environmental impacts."

A 62-day public comment period begins for the DEIR, which will include six public meetings by the DOC's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), as called for by SB 4 and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process. The DOC has created regulations supporting SB 4 that will be effective July 1 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 10, 2014).

Addressing all of the CEQA-required environmental issues (air quality, geology, soils, noise, hydrology/water quality and greenhouse gas emissions), the DEIR said most of the significant impacts identified can be reduced to a "less-than-significant" level, including potential impacts to groundwater and surface water, along with threats of drilling-induced seismic activity.

"DOGGR is confident well stimulation treatment activities can continue in California without the kind of environmental problems that have plagued well stimulation treatment in other states with lesser levels of environmental protection," said Steven Bohlen, the state's oil/gas supervisor heading DOGGR.

"The DEIR objectives are to ensure that we have a good general understanding of the potential environmental impacts of well stimulation practices, and that the practice is conducted with environmental protection, public safety, transparency, science-based decision-making, and strong oversight as priorities."

In the third-party assessment, scientists from the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory completed an assessment of the current level of well stimulation use in the state and where it is concentrated, but they still are required by July 1 to complete the assessment's other parts: an evaluation of the potential impacts from well stimulation on water and air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and seismic activity (volume 2), and the completion of several case studies (volume 3).

"Volume 2 will build on the first volume's conclusions about what is happening and where by studying the various impacts," said Jane Long, co-lead investigator on the SB assessment from the CCST.

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