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California Fracking Rules Take Effect; Scientific Reviews Released

California's new rules covering well stimulation, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), completed the state's environmental review and went into effect Wednesday as called for in a state law passed two years ago (SB 4). They replace interim regulations that have been effective since the start of 2014.

Deconstructed and reconstructed by a large number of stakeholders, the well stimulation treatment regulations run 28 pages as part of California's rules governing the development and conservation of oil/natural gas resources (see Shale Daily, Jan. 2). The rules will be enforced by the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

Part of the rules cover groundwater monitoring, which the state Water Resources Control Board is implementing under SB 4. The water board has implemented DOGGR interim monitoring requirements and now plans to adopt final model criteria for groundwater monitoring at the state board's meeting Tuesday (July 7).

Other highlights of the final rules include:

  • Well stimulation projects in advance will be permitted by DOGGR and reviewed by the Water Resources Control Board to determine if groundwater monitoring will be required;
  • The approvals to proceed with well stimulation will be contingent upon extensive engineering review and well integrity evaluation;
  • Neighboring parties must get advance notice of projects and can request pre-treatment water quality tests to establish a local baseline; and
  • Chemicals used must be disclosed; comprehensive post-stimulation reports filed, including volumes of water used; and seismic monitoring must be done during the well stimulation.

The head of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Catherine Reheis-Boyd, called the final California rules the “most extensive public disclosure, reporting, testing, notification and oversight requirements on hydraulic fracturing in the United States.”

DOGGR on Wednesday certified a statewide environmental impact report (EIR) on well stimulation, including fracking. The EIR was called for in SB 4 to evaluate the potential impacts on existing projects and "projects not yet anticipated," according to a DOGGR spokesperson.

"The EIR concluded that most of the environmental impacts associated with the use of well stimulation can be reduced to the level of 'less-than-significant' if suggested mitigation measures are used," the spokesperson said. Among the mitigation measures proposed are the use of alternative water sources, such as recycled or treated water.

In addition, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) will publish July 9 three or four volumes in an independent scientific assessment of well stimulation treatments, as called for in SB 4 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 23, 2013). The report’s first volume was released Wednesday with the final EIR.

According to the CCST, the scientific review aimed "to synthesize and assess the available scientific information associated with well stimulation treatments in California...surveying hydraulic fracturing, matrix acidizing, and acid fracturing as they are applied both onshore and offshore for oil and gas production in the state." The study was organized into three major areas: geology and well stimulation; stimulation's potential impacts on water, atmosphere, seismic activity, wildlife and vegetation, and human health; and case studies from four areas in the state.

"All of these elements -- regulations, EIR and scientific assessment -- will ensure that the state's action on well stimulation are grounded in the best and most up-to-date science, and that we have the knowledge and the tools to be better stewards of land, water and energy resources," said DOGGR Oil/Gas Supervisor Stephen Bohlen.

Noting that historically the state has relied on construction standards to ensure that petroleum-related gases and fluids are confined to their appropriate geologic zones, Bohlen said in setting the SB 4-mandated rules DOGGR staff reviewed extensive stakeholder input and regulations in place in other states.

"The regulations now effective in California are comprehensive and will protect the environment, drinking water, and public health/safety," he said.

WSPA's Reheis-Boyd said that "as we pass yet another regulatory milestone, it is worth noting that hydraulic fracturing technology has been used in California energy production for more than 60 years and has never been found to have adversely impacted groundwater or the environment."

She said that over the past 18 months since the interim rules were made effective, producers have complied with interim regulations, while permanent regulations were developed in accordance with the schedule set by SB 4.

"While this latest transition adds more detail to some of the required public disclosures, it did not substantially change the many reporting and transparency provisions that are now part of California law nor did it alter the petroleum industry's commitment to sound and prudent energy production."

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