The San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in a California Superior Court Thursday, seeking to get the state to enforce existing laws governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) when it is used in oil and natural gas production. The nonprofit conservation organization alleged that the state is shirking its responsibility.

Contending that 600 wells in nine California counties were fracked in 2011, the center’s Vera Pardee said that oil/gas operators currently “frack whenever and however they deem fit, and that practice has to stop.”

The focal point of the legal action, the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) indicated to NGI it could not comment on the pending litigation filed in the Alameda County Superior Court.

However, the conservation department’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, emphasized that DOGGR is currently circulating among stakeholders a “discussion draft” of proposed regulations covering fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 21, 2012).

“This is the first step to engage the environmental community, oil/gas industry, fellow regulators, and the public at large in a discussion of what the state’s hydraulic fracturing-specific regulations ought to include,” said Marshall, reiterating that the state agency intends to hold at least three public meetings to gain feedback on the draft rules.

The input and discussion will take place before the formal rule-making process is begun, he said. The initial feedback will result in the first draft regulations.

“The discussion draft regulation are posted on our website [], with an e-mail link for public comments,” Marshall said.

In the meantime, the bio-diversity center referred to reports that have documented what it called “the dangers” of fracking, alleging that there have been more than a thousand instances of water contamination from the practice.

“Fracking also emits hazardous air pollutants and methane, a potent greenhouse gas,” said the center spokesperson. “It has the potential to induce seismic activity in one of the nation’s most earthquake-prone states.”

While California has no specific regulations exclusive to fracking, the center said compliance with existing oil/gas regulations would require disclosure of all fracking chemicals, along with engineering studies and tests to evaluate the potential for underground migration of fracking fluids.

The center dismissed DOGGR’s draft fracking rules as preliminary and a long way from something final.