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California Sets 'Emergency' Status for Interim Fracking Rules

To comply with the new state law (SB 4) mandating hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regulations, California oil and natural gas drilling officials on Wednesday designated as "emergency regulations" a set of interim rules that take effect Jan. 1 while permanent rules and an environmental assessment are being finalized (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10).

While the interim rules mirror current drafts of proposed regulations that have been worked on for a year now, the permanent set of rules now under public scrutiny are expected to change before they are finalized late next year, according to Conservation Department Director Mark Nechodom.

The state conservation agency gave notice of the interim rulemaking for regulating oil/gas well stimulation, designating it "emergency" so it can get a fast track administrative law review by Dec. 19 and be cleared to start with the new year. State officials have made it clear the temporary rules mainly will rely on self-testing, -monitoring and -reporting by the industry operators on an individual well basis.

"[Under the interim rules], operators must self report that they are in compliance," said a spokesperson with the conservation department's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), which will implement the new rules. "No permit is required, but operators must submit advance notice that will be published on our website and report within 60 days after the drilling."

DOGGR is counting on having a larger team of inspectors by Jan. 1, 2015 when the permanent rules and permitting requirements are expected to start.

"The proposed regulations that will go into effect at the start of 2015 are currently in the public comment process," Nechodom said (see Shale Daily, Nov. 15). "We expect significant public interest and significant changes to those regulations."

SB 4 provided for the temporary rules to be in place at the beginning of next year when the law is effective, and Nechodom said the interim regulations released Wednesday will "provide a fundamental baseline level of protection while we develop the more comprehensive ones for 2015."

Nevertheless, he said the interim rules will make "key components of SB 4" regarding water quality monitoring and testing and regarding transparency effective as of next year.

The interim rules are now posted on the Department of Conservation website (www.conservation.ca.gov). In the meantime, hearings on the environmental review have begun this month, and separate hearings on the proposed permanent regulations will start in January.

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