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California Producers Decry Columnist's Fracking Untruths

Critics of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in California lament an alleged lack of information from the oil/natural gas industry, but producers are trying to counter what they consider to be gross misinformation on the drilling practice.

The latest pot-stirring comes from a Los Angeles Times business columnist who predicted in a Sunday column that the state "almost certainly" will get new fracking rules, but they may not be implemented anytime soon.

Columnist Michael Hiltzik's Sunday business section column ("Let's get the truth about fracking") prompted criticism from the chief spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Tupper Hull, who said he explained a lot about fracking in California to Hiltzik, but he "ignored" most of what was said.

"He certainly got it wrong," said Hull, referring to Hiltzik's contention that oil/gas producers were refusing to divulge the chemicals they use, although in reality they are supporting some legislation that would require the chemicals be divulged, but they resist making public their specific formulas or mixtures.

"AB 591 requires the reporting of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and [Hiltzik] knew that," Hull said. "The bill uses a model adopted in Colorado whereby operators can ask that the precise concentrations of some of the chemicals can be withheld as trade secrets."

Hiltzik cited the California branch of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as the authors of an original California fracking bill introduced last year and contended that the oil/gas industry had conspired to kill the bill (SB1054), which was voted down in the state Senate earlier this month by18-17 (see Daily GPI, June 4).

WSPA led the opposition, but it is supporting AB 591, which also was introduced last year and is still viable. SB 1054 would have required exploration and production (E&P) companies to notify surrounding property owners of their plans to employ fracking 30 days before starting work. It also would have altered relationships between land owners and mineral rights owners.

Hiltzik quoted a Sacramento-based EWG representative as alleging that the oil/gas industry "wants to determine what is a trade secret and not even give the agency [state oil/gas department] the names of the chemicals they consider secret."

"If you look on the [website] FracFocus registry of California wells you can see how the information is handled," Hull told NGI's Shale Daily. "I walked Hiltzik through all of that and he either forgot about it or ignored it."

Hull said there are "a lot of other things" wrong or misleading in the column, which offered the fracking issue as one related to the overall economy of the state, in which oil and natural gas continue to be a major industry. Hull was particularly incensed that the columnist restated the by now widely discredited allegation in anti-fracking film Gasland that residents near fracking operations have had their water contaminated.

The fact that his example was raised again indicated Hiltzik "did not do very much or very good research," Hull said.

The production of oil and natural gas within the state has been on the decline. According to data from the California Department of Conservation -- Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, there were 196.8 million bbl of oil and 244.4 Bcf of natural gas produced in California in 2011, down from 200.9 million bbl and 255.4 Bcf, respectively, during 2010.

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