Preliminary draft rules for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) were unveiled Tuesday by California’s state oil and natural gas drilling regulators who indicated the development process will take at least all of next year.
At this early stage, Jason Marshall, the chief deputy director of the state Department of Conservation, said the draft rules reflect parts of similar rules adopted by various states, but overall they would go beyond requirements. The draft rules would include the use of fracfocus.org, an independent chemical disclosure registry.
The early draft includes input from the oil and gas industry, environmental groups and the public, which was gathered from workshops held earlier this year. Another round of public meetings is scheduled next year.
“There is a high degree of public, legislative and [Gov. Jerry] Brown administration interest in this topic,” said Marshall, in response to a question and the fact that legislative attempts have and are being developed to address fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 5). “Having rules that are clear for the public and operators are needed. Hydraulic fracturing has been happening in the state for decades using our basic well construction standards, which we are very confident in because they are as high or higher than what other states require, but the draft rules have been developed because of a high interest and a need to be more specific to make sure those wells can withstand the pressures being placed on them.”
Contending the draft rules, albeit very early in their development, are “already leading” the nation in several areas, Marshall cited the proposal to have continuing monitoring of a fracking site after the process is completed. He said only Pennsylvania currently has this post-fracking oversight. One area that the draft rules cover that are at this point unique to California address seismic and fault zones in and around the area to be fracked.
“Monitoring what is done before, during and after using the hydraulic fracturing practice we see as consistent with the way we regulate the oil/gas industry already,” Marshall said.
The proposed rules do not specifically address the issue of “induced seismicity,” or whether the fracking is causing local earthquakes, but they require fault analysis in regard to protecting groundwater.
“One of the divisions within the Conservation Department is the California Geologic Survey, so that gives us a great deal of expertise and background to add to that of our petroleum engineers, so one of the things we know is that discussions of induced seismicity in other parts of the state are tied to the disposal of water,” Marshall said. “It is not tied specifically to the practice of hydraulic fracturing, but where you have problems in other areas is where you are taking large volumes of water [from fracking] and now you need to dispose of them.”
The potential seismicity problems are not related to the fracking, per se, but to the disposal of the water used in the process, and California already has adequate monitoring and protection for the disposal wells, Marshall said.
Regarding transparency issues, operators would be required to give at least 24 hours notice to DEC before starting fracking, similar to conventional drilling rules. “It is our thought that we will be performing more on-site observations of fracking than perhaps we do with blowout preventers,” Marshall said.
Marshall was asked why the state doesn’t propose a separate permitting requirement for fracking in addition to traditional drilling permits. “We thought setting the requirements for how you engage in the fracking practice before, during and after the practice would be adequate and consistent with the way we already regulate the oil/gas industry,” he said.
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