In a split vote the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District Board set aside staffs recommendations and decided the County does not need to gather information about potential effects on air quality caused by hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Supervisor Linda Parks had led the Board in asking APCD staff to prepare a report and recommendations for the Board regarding the rules recently passed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) that allows that body – which oversees air pollution in Orange County, and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties – to gather information on fracking and other =-enhanced oil recovery techniques. The APCD staff recommended that the Board permit them to (1) work with SCAQMD and examine whether a similar rule would be beneficial in Ventura County and (2) to monitor the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) rule making process for fracking that will begin formally sometime this summer and (3) to “provide direction…to District staff on whether or not they should begin a rulemaking effort on hydraulic fracturing and air quality.”
While California has detailed rules about well construction, there are no specific regulations regarding fracking, nor does any government body receive notification, actively track or otherwise monitor fracking. DOGGR officials have admitted that their oversight is reliant upon self-monitoring, self-testing and self-reporting by the oil and gas companies.
“Frack fluids are used in quite high volumes compared to other chemicals we regulate,” said Mike Villegas, ACPD Air Pollution Control Officer during his report to the Board. “Fracking is necessary. [The oil] will not come out without a man made fracture.” Villegas indicated that his office does not have the expertise in this field and that they had to rely heavily on DOGGR for information. He listed three major concerns regarding air pollution with fracking: the compounds contained in the “flow back” water after fracking. The extensive use of diesel engines to pump the fluids into the well and to run other equipment needed on site, and the release of methane. He reported that current regulations do not allow open-air pits or open top tanks to store the produced water that comes up after drilling or fracking, and that methane that comes up must be contained or flared, venting into the atmosphere is not allowed.
ACPD Board Members – Supr. Peter Foy, Supr. Kathy Long, City of Camarillo Council Member Mike Morgan and City of Fillmore Council Member Doug Tucker voted against the staff recommendations and because it was a tie vote, the motion failed.
“Hydraulic fracturing has never been associated with any environmental harm,” said Sandra Burkhart, spokesperson for Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). WSPA opposed the staff recommendation, saying that DOGGR is the proper agency, with the proper expertise.
Chamber of Commerce groups from across the County, including Ventura, Oxnard, and Camarillo also opposed the recommendations made by staff. Statewide, Chamber groups are opposing local rules and moratoriums on fracking, supporting the view that local governments should wait for the DOGGR rules – expected to be implemented in summer 2014 – and that local rules will stress the already tight job market.
During the Board’s discussion Parks submitted information that while some may suggest waiting for DOGGR to pass and implement rules on fracking, that their jurisdiction is “down hole”, while the County has jurisdiction above ground. She said that DOGGR does not have the ability to regulate air quality or pollution from fracking or any other enhanced recovery process used to complete wells. Parks mentioned the process of acidization, where hydrofluoric acid is used to “melt” the rocks and release oil and gas. The recommendations would have allowed information to be gathered on these processes as well.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used after drilling and conventional oil recovery, to “complete” the well and get at the hard to get oil by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressures deep underground to break apart the hard rock formation in order to release the oil and gas. Concerned Ventura County residents have questions about the use of the process here because of negative effects being reported across the country. Reports of water contamination, gag orders on settlements, air pollution, crops dying, and more continue to cause concern.
“[Those] are not going to happen in California due to our regulations,” said Morgan during Board discussion. “We have regulations that take care of all these problems.” Following the hearing Morgan said, “It’s not fair to disregard the over 4000 jobs in the County that rely on [the industry].” When asked how gathering information on fracking would result in fewer jobs Morgan said, “We have strong regulation. [If it becomes over-burdensome] we will lose business.”