In the two weeks since the Department of the Interior put forth first-of-their-kind fracking regulations, Congress has introduced a bill that would block the rules from going into effect, and the industry quickly filed lawsuits. Environmental groups have said the new oversight is better than nothing but isn’t as far-reaching as they would like.
The rules — which only apply to the approximately 100,000 wells nationwide that sit on public land — include measures like inspecting the wells’ cement linings for fissures and disclosing the chemicals used within a month. The regulations are scheduled to go into effect toward the end of June, just ahead of the full implementation of California’s Senate Bill 4, a law passed in 2013 to keep a tighter watch on fracking and acidizing operations throughout California.
No fracking currently occurs in Santa Barbara County, but it has been popular in the Sespe Oil Field, located in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County. Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, said 350 instances of fracking have occurred there since the 1960s, but zero since 2013.
Recently, Seneca Resources, headquartered in New York State, applied to the U.S. Forest Service for eight fracking wells in the Sespe Oil Field, about 98 percent of which the company owns. Seneca spokesperson Rob Boulware suggested that SB 4 may end up trumping the new federal rules — state laws, if more stringent, are allowed to supersede federal ones — but until or unless that happens, the company will abide by both sets of laws.
Kuyper called the federal regulations “a step in the right direction” but not strong enough for a “very ecologically sensitive” area like the Sespe, home to the California condor. There haven’t been any reported incidents of fracking spills in that field, Kuyper said, but “the major concern is just the risk and whether that risk is worth it.”