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Fracking Accounts For 95% of New Permits Under California Well Stimulation Rules

In the first 18 months under California's well stimulation rules, nearly 95% of permits granted were for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), according to a report oil/natural gas regulators submitted to the state legislature on the last day of 2015.

Mandated in the state Well Stimulation Treatment (WST) law (SB 4), the report by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) summarizes the impact of the interim rules, noting that 2,127 WST permits were approved for 15 operators, and the activity was concentrated in three counties in the state.

"This first annual report is intended to satisfy the legislative requirements in SB 4 but also provide context and background on the development of WST regulations," said Kenneth Harris, state oil/gas supervisor and DOGGR head. The report summarizes an environmental impact report done regarding the new rules, an independent scientific study of their impact, expansion of the DOGGR regulatory staff, and the oil/gas unit's increased collaboration with the state Water Resources Board.

After the 18-month period of interim well stimulation rules, California's permanent well stimulation rules, including fracking, completed the state's environmental review and went into effect July 1 as called for in SB 4 (see Shale DailyJuly 2, 2015).

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 DailyJan. 2, 2015). The rules are enforced by DOGGR.

"The principal objective of these regulations is to ensure that well stimulation is done safely and transparently with technical standards, required testing and monitoring, and public disclosures," the report said.

Highlights from the interim permitting period paint a picture of relatively limited well stimulation work, with 99% of it concentrated in Kern County, the heart of California's oil/gas sector. Nearly all (89%) of the WST permits were for drilling in diatomite, the fine-grained sedimentary rock that makes up part of the Monterey Formation. Other highlights are:

  • Besides Kern, the only counties involved in WST permits were Kings and Ventura;
  • Average fracture length of WST performed in diatomite formations was 83 feet, and it was 150-308 feet in other formations;
  • Almost all (98%) of recovered WST fluids were reinjected into Class II underground injection wells regulated separately by DOGGR; and
  • Water use for base fluids in the WST treatments included 78% coming from domestic water systems; 84% was reported as suitable for domestic or irrigation use.

Few problems have been spotted by DOGGR or reported to the agency by areas near the WST permitted activity.

DOGGR issued 58 violation notices for "minor infractions" of WST requirements, the report said. "There were no well failures associated with WST, no emergency responses or spills, and no requests for confidential well status or trade secret protections [from operators]," DOGGR reported to the legislature.

Among more than 1,000 neighbors receiving SB 4-required notices of WST, only one requested water sampling, the report said. And all WST operations except one were performed within existing oilfield boundaries.

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