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December 24, 2012
California floats fracking draft

California may soon become one of about 10 states to have regulations that specifically cover hydraulic fracturing used to extract oil and gas (O&G) from underground formations.  The “discussion draft” of regulations released by the state Department of Conservation is intended to supplement existing standards that apply to all O&G wells that are drilled in the state. 

The Department notes that the primary goal of well standards is to ensure zonal isolation; this means that oil and gas coming up from a well will not escape the well and migrate into other geologic zones, including zones that might contain fresh water.  Cement and metal barriers used in wells must meet strength and integrity standards.  If a well loses integrity, the operator must remedy the situation. 

Seven provisions

The fracking discussion draft would add seven provisions to the existing state regulations:
  • Before fracking occurs, the operator would be required to ensure that the well can withstand pressures created by the process, test the thickness of cement bonds, and test the integrity of nearby wells to be sure they do not act as conduits out of the intended zone to other geologic strata.
  • Operators would be required to report the results of these tests to the Department at least 10 days before commencing fracking.  Also, the Department must be given 24 hours’ notice before fracking begins to allow a state engineer/inspector to witness the operation.
  • Operators would be required to constantly monitor the wells, stop operations if unexpected changes occur, and remediate any problem before work resumes.
  • Operators would be required to monitor specified pressures, conditions, and production rates daily for the first 30 days after fracking and monthly for 5 years after the operation concludes.
  • Operators would be required to post information about the operations to FracFocus.org or by another means specified by the Department.  Posted information would need to include the fracking chemicals used in the process, the total volume of fluid used, and the disposition of the fluid.
  • Operators that claim the fracking fluids are trade secrets would need to demonstrate to the Department that the secret gives its owner a significant economic advantage, that disclosure of the secret would compromise that advantage, that the information has not been disclosed elsewhere, and that the fluid or substance cannot be reverse engineered to discover its composition.
  • Fracking fluids would be made subject to state regulations governing notification, response, and cleanup of spills.  Fluids would also be subject to storage requirements.

Group says more is needed

The discussion draft was generally viewed as an acceptable first step by industry and environmental groups.  However, the Environmental Working Group noted that provisions to ensure that trade secret claims are not abused should be made stricter and that operators should be required to keep the surrounding communities informed about all aspects of the fracking operation.

Click here for the text of the discussion draft.

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