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California Modifies Proposed Fracking Regulations, Mandating Seismic Monitoring

The Ventura County Star reported on June 17th that the California Department of  Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (the “Division”), has modified its proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations mandated by last year’s Senate Bill 4, requiring well operators to conduct real-time seismic monitoring. The modified regulations specify that they apply both to offshore and on shore oil drilling operations. Most drilling off the California coast, however, occurs in federal waters that are beyond the reach of state regulations.

California Senate Bill 4 passed on September 20, 2013 provided in pertinent part:

3160. Section 2, adding Article 3, Well Stimulation

(a) On or before January 1, 2015, the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency shall cause to be conducted, and completed, an independent scientific study on well stimulation treatments, including, but not limited to, hydraulic fracturing and acid well stimulation treatments. The scientific study shall evaluate the hazards and risks and potential hazards and risks that well stimulation treatments pose to natural resources and public, occupational, and environmental health and safety. The scientific study shall do all of the following:

(6) Include a hazard assessment and risk analysis addressing occupational and environmental exposures to well stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing treatments, hydraulic fracturing treatment-related processes, acid well stimulation treatments, acid well stimulation treatment-related processes, and the corresponding impacts on public health and safety with the participation of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

(7) Clearly identify where additional information is necessary to inform and improve the analyses.

(b) (1) (A) On or before January 1, 2015, the Division, in consultation with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the State Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, and any local air districts and regional water quality control boards in areas where well stimulation treatments, including acid well stimulation treatments and hydraulic fracturing treatments may occur, shall adopt rules and regulations specific to well stimulation treatments. The rules and regulations shall include, but are not limited to, revisions, as needed, to the rules and regulations governing construction of wells and well casings to ensure integrity of wells, well casings, and the geologic and hydrologic isolation of the oil and gas formation during and following well stimulation treatments, and full disclosure of the composition and disposition of well stimulation fluids, including, but not limited to, hydraulic fracturing fluids, acid well stimulation fluids, and flowback fluids.

Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the state Department of Conservation, said the regulations will now require well operators to conduct real-time monitoring of the California Integrated Seismic Network while well-stimulation activity is taking place, as well as for 10 days afterward.  If an earthquake of 2.0 magnitude or greater occurs during that time, the well stimulation activity must stop, and further activity at that site would not be permitted until an analysis is conducted to determine whether the drilling activity may have contributed to triggering the earthquake.

The revised regulations were released late last week, and will be followed by a 45-day comment period. The final regulations must be completed by October 15th so they can be in effect by January 1st, 2015.

During the yearlong rule-making process to implement permanent regulations, the state has imposed emergency regulations for the current year that institute most of the provisions called for in the proposed law, including disclosure of chemicals used, notification of neighbors when well stimulation activity is planned, and groundwater monitoring.  Senate Bill 4 establishes what are widely recognized as some of the most stringent regulations on hydraulic fracturing of any state. Click here for the full text.

Opponents of the bill, most of whom believe that only a moratorium or ban on fracking would adequately protect public health and safety, asserted the modified regulations remain insufficient.  “Gov. Jerry Brown’s weak fracking rules are a huge gift to oil companies using dangerous chemicals in California communities,” said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. “State officials are simply refusing to protect people from fracking pollution.”

Portions of this article have been taken from the report, State’s Modified Fracking Regulations Require Monitoring of Seismic Activity by Timm Herdt, posted June 17, 2014.  Click here for the full text of the article.