Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the first law in the state of California that places specific requirements on operators when they utilize various well stimulation practices aimed at increasing oil and gas production in the state. Dubbed the Pavley Bill – for the bills author state senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) – SB 4 authorizes state regulators to grant permits for well stimulation practices “if specific conditions are met.”
Those conditions require operators to disclose “well stimulation fluids,” and provide a copy of their approved permit to “specified tenants and property owners at least 30 days prior to commencing a well stimulation treatment.” The bill applies to hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – acidization and other processes aimed at stimulating production.
“Starting January 1, 2014, oil companies will not be allowed to frack or acidize in California unless they test the groundwater, notify neighbors and list each and every chemical on the Internet,” Senator Pavley said. “This is a first step toward greater transparency, accountability and protection of the public and the environment. Now we need immediate, robust enforcement and widespread public involvement to ensure the law is upheld to its fullest.”
Under existing law the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) – a part of the California Department of Conservation – “regulates the drilling, operation, maintenance, and abandonment of oil and gas wells in the state.” The Division, as DOGGR is referred to by the industry, also works under the requirement to “encourage the wise development of California’s oil, gas and geothermal resources while protecting the environment.” Until now, there have been no disclosure, or permitting requirements specific to fracking or any other well stimulation practices.
“The Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources will develop regulations to implement SB 4,” said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director for the Department of Conservation in a prepared statement. SB 4 creates the deadline of January 1, 2015, “which the Department is well prepared to meet,” said Marshall. “These new regulations will include extensive protections for groundwater, which will be developed and implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board. The new regulations will complement existing rules that require some of the strongest well construction and operation standards in the nation.”
The process of fracking involves using water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressures deep into oil and gas wells with the intention of fracturing the shale rock formations and releasing the trapped oil and gas. Acidization, uses hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to break apart and in some cases melt the rock away to release the oil and gas.
The bill also requires the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency (of California) to oversee an independent study which must be completed by January 2015 that will look into “acid well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing treatments.” In addition, the State Water Resources Control Board is now required “to develop a groundwater monitoring model…to be implemented either on a well-by-well basis or on a regional scale.”
“I strongly support SB 4. The public has been demanding disclosure of fracking and its impacts,” said Supervisor Steve Bennett. “The public also demands real regulation of fracking. Full disclosure and regulation of other oil well techniques that could jeopardize health and drinking water is essential for public confidence.” Bennett points out that the County of Ventura has been in support of the bill since it was introduced. He indicates that the bill will have little effect with how permitting for oil and gas operations is processed in the County
“The bill doesn’t really change how local agencies permit oil and gas operations,” he said. “Having consistent disclosure requirements and regulations statewide is far more efficient and effective than trying to accomplish it with the limited authority of local governments.” Bennett says that the new disclosure requirements “dovetail nicely with what I’ve been trying to accomplish locally. State regulation of fracking is long overdue, so hopefully this bill will get the lead out of State agencies.”
A local organization, Citizens For Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG), which formed earlier this year in an effort to convince County planners to refuse a request made by Mirada Petroleum – a Santa Paula based oil company – to modify their conditional use permit (CUP) in order to allow more oil wells in an area near Thomas Aquinas College. While CFROG’s efforts did not achieve the initial goal, as Mirada was allowed to add the wells, the Planning office did add a provision to Mirada’s CUP prohibiting fracking.
“SB 4 is not perfect but if it becomes law we stand a far better chance of protecting our fabulous environment in this county than to let oil companies continue to shoot chemicals and acid underground at high pressure without any oversight,” said John Brooks, President of CFROG. “The state controls what happens underground – everything else, like truck traffic on roads, land use, noise, air quality, water quality and supply, access roads and graded pads is the responsibility of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and our city councils. CFROG will be working in the coming months to make sure that local protections are also beefed up. Step by step, that’s how progress is made.”