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December 02, 2013
California proposes strongest fracking regs

The nation’s most stringent requirements governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are under development in California, according to the state’s Department of Conservation (DOC). 

That claim accompanied release of proposed regulations for the stimulation of wells used to develop oil and gas resources.  Under DOC’s definition, well stimulation includes acid fracturing and acid matrix fracturing as well as hydraulic fracturing.  The proposed regulations implement California Senate Bill (SB) 4, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. 

“We believe that once these proposed regulations go into effect at the start of 2015, we will have in place the strongest environmental and public health protections of any oil- and gas-producing state in the nation while also ensuring that a key element of California’s economy can maintain its productivity,” said Mark Nechodom, DOC’s director.

Zonal isolation

The DOC notes that the proposed regulations have a fundamental purpose—to ensure that oil and gas coming up a well from an underground geologic production zone will not escape the well and migrate into other geologic zones, including zones that might contain fresh water.  This assurance, called zonal isolation, also means that any fluids an oil and gas operator puts down a well for any purpose will either stay in that zone or be brought up to the surface and not allowed to migrate to another zone.

Contamination of groundwater by injected fluids is the major public health and environmental concern associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Posting of permits

The proposed well stimulation regulations implement only part of SB 4, which includes 10 principal provisions.  The proposal itself would require that:

  • An oil and/or gas operator apply for a permit to conduct specified well stimulation operations.  Information required in the permit application includes an evaluation of the condition of the well’s cement and a list of the chemicals to be used along with the estimated maximum concentrations.
  • The DOC post all well stimulation permits on its website within 5 days of approval.
  • An operator provide written notice to all neighbors of the proposed project site at least 30 days in advance of well stimulation.  Anyone who owns a water well can ask the operator to hire an independent party to conduct baseline and follow-up water quality testing.
  • Before well stimulation can occur, an operator must analyze other nearby wells and earthquake faults to prevent the migration of fluids, verify the integrity of the cement in the well, and also pressure-test the subject well and equipment that will be used (125 percent of maximum fracturing pressure for at least 30 minutes).
  • Continuous monitoring be conducted of key factors—including pressures and flow rates—during well stimulation operations; the conditions under which stimulation must immediately cease must also be laid out.
  • Within 60 days after a well stimulation operation ends, an operator post certain information to www.fracfocus.com or another chemical disclosure registry approved by the DOC.  That data include the trade name, supplier, and a brief description of the intended purpose of each additive contained in the well stimulation fluid.

Trade secrets

SB 4 requires that, whether or not the information is claimed as trade secret, it must be disclosed to the DOC.  If claiming trade secret protection from disclosure, the supplier would need to provide the DOC with a justification.  The DOC must then make a determination on whether the information is a protected trade secret. 

After the determination, SB 4 sets forth a process by which the information can be obtained, how the trade secret information would be disclosed, and how the supplier may seek to obtain a preliminary injunction prohibiting disclosure of the information to the public if it disagrees with DOC’s trade secret determination.

SB 4 also provides that even if the information is a protected trade secret, it must be disclosed to a health professional who reasonably believes that the information may be necessary in the diagnosis or treatment of a patient.

DOC’s proposal and supporting information

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