The California Department of Conservation’s Oil/Gas Division goes to the heart of the state’s energy production region in Bakersfield Wednesday night to kick off a series of eight public workshops on hydraulic facturing (fracking) as a data-gathering phase prior to writing draft rules to more precisely regulate the oil/gas drilling process.

The public hearing series is part of a comprehensive data-gathering process that the state agency agreed to conduct as part of informal discussions among stakeholders and the state legislators looking at passing a new state law covering fracking. Industry representatives have been involved in the legislative process, but how involved they will be in the workshop series that ends with a July 25 session in Sacramento is not clear.

Heightened public interest in the fracking process is the sole reason for the hearings; California already tightly regulates the drilling process, including hydraulic fracturing, but there are no specific references to fracking, although it has been used in the state for the past 60 years, a spokesperson with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday.

“At the conclusion of the workshops, the [conservation] department intends to use input from the workshop series and from an independent scientific study of the practice of hydraulic fracturing (concurrent with the workshops) to prepare draft regulations,” said a spokesperson for the oil/gas division in the state agency. Potential rules could be drafted this fall.

“If the workshops help people understand the role of [existing] regulations and the safety of hydraulic fracturing, then that will be a good outcome from the workshops,” said the WSPA spokesperson, Tupper Hull.

Each of the public input sessions will include an overview of California’s oil/gas production, the majority of which involves traditional vertical drilling techniques, along with what the conservation department officials call nonpolicy aspects of fracking. They will also talk about existing drilling regulations and what they protect against, the spokesperson said.

“These workshops are intended as an information gathering exercise to advise the [conservation] department about specific public concerns that regulations could address,” the state agency spokesperson said.

WSPA’s Hull said the state already has what he called “a huge body of regulations” governing well construction, integrity, testing, water and air quality protections — “all of which apply to wells that are hydraulically fractured. And that is one reason there has never been even a suggestion that hydraulic fracturing has posed an environmental risk in California, despite 60 some years of use.”

Following Wednesday’s workshop, subsequent meetings have been scheduled for Ventura (May 30), Culver City (Los Angeles, June 12), Long Beach (June 13), Salinas (June 27), Santa Maria (July 11) and Sacramento (July 25).