The state of California released proposed rules for governing hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. “fracking,” on Friday morning, setting off a slew of reactions from both environmentalists (who complain the draft regulations don’t go far enough to protect the public) and the oil industry, which appreciates the state’s “balanced” approach. The regulations have special resonance in Santa Barbara County, which was the first jurisdiction in California to pass its own rules about fracking after finding out the practice was occurring near Los Alamos a couple years ago. More recent investigations have also revealed that fracking is occurring on the offshore oil rigs as well as within the Los Padres National Forest.
Currently, California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (known as “DOGGR”) has no special rules in place for fracking, the newly controversial though decades-old practice of pumping lots of water and a mix of chemicals underground to crack rocks and release hard-to-reach oil and natural gas from the earth. With concerns about the impacts of the practice rising nationwide over the past few years and evidence that more fracking was starting to occur in California’s extensive Monterey Shale formation, State Senator Fran Pavley, of Agoura Hills, introduced the bill SB 4 earlier this year with an aim to have new rules in place by 2015. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in September, prompting DOGGR to develop the proposed “Well Stimulation Treatment Regulations,” which you can read here. There is also an easier-to-read FAQ available here.
The initial reaction from the oil industry, which has traditionally been concerned with the economic impacts of further regulation, is quite positive. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said in a statement that she was “pleased” with the prompt release of the draft rules. “These regulations are extensive but strike the right balance that will result in an environmental platform which will ensure that the potential energy resources contained in the Monterey Shale formation can be responsibly developed,” she said, explaining that the state only produces 38 percent of the crude oil it uses on a regular basis. “There are no pipelines that bring crude oil to California – we either produce it here and provide jobs, improve the economy and become more energy secure or it comes by tanker from foreign sources. SB 4 provides for responsible development of a much needed resource for California.”
Perhaps WSPA’s satisfaction explains why the environmentalists aren’t quite as pleased. Jeff Kuyper, of Los Padres ForestWatch, which recently shined a light on the fracking that happens at the Sespe Oil Field near Fillmore, believes much more work needs to be done. “As the regulations are finalized over the course of the next year, we will continue to demand the strongest protections possible to guard against pollution and protect our forest’s watersheds,” said Kuyper in his statement, which also continued the call for an immediate moratorium until the new rules go into effect. “Our farms, our communities, and our wildlife depend on it.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, which successfully got the federal Bureau of Land Management to rescind some sales of underground mineral rights related to fracking in Monterey County, was even more pointed in their criticism of the new rules. “Gov. Brown’s fracking regulations would leave California’s environment and public health horribly exposed to fracking pollution,” said CBD’s Kassie Siegel. “These rules mostly take the narrowest, most oil industry-friendly approach possible under state law to governing fracking. They will permit fracking to spread across the state, endangering our air, water, communities and climate. The only safe way forward for California is a halt to this inherently dangerous process.”
Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center, which recently released a report detailing fracking from offshore rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel, also wants the state to stop all fracking-like practices until new rules are passed. “First and foremost, EDC continues to advocate for a moratorium on fracking while the state finally conducts a comprehensive review of the risks of fracking and acidization to the environment and public health,” said EDC attorney Brian Segee. “In the interim, we will be working to ensure that DOGGR adopts regulations that meet the detailed permitting, disclosure, and reporting requirements of SB 4.”