Unfrack California

Fracking activity in Baldwin Hills near residential area, Los Angeles.

Fracking activity in Baldwin Hills near residential area, Los Angeles.

Last week, LA Waterkeeper submitted comments to the State of California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) on the agency’s “Discussion Draft” of new proposed regulations for fracking in California. A couple of things to note–

1) Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of oil and gas productions that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth. Fracking breaks up rock formations to allow oil and gas extraction.

2) Fracking has been reported in at least 10 counties in California, including Los Angeles. Most California fracking is for oil, not gas.

3) There are no comprehensive regulations for this type of oil or natural gas extraction. Thus, oil and gas companies do not have the same inspection, notice, and monitoring requirements as other extraction activities.

4) Chemicals used in the fracking process are considered proprietary by the industry so regulators, health professionals, and the public have no idea what they are being exposed to at or near fracking locations.

5) There have been at least 1,000 instances of water contamination caused by fracking and drilling throughout the United States.

6) California is currently the target of the oil industry, which claims there are 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale ripe for extraction.

So, it seems like a good thing that the State agency charged with regulating oil extraction activities is finally drafting some guidelines and requirements, right? Well, that would certainly be the case if (1) we knew more about the actual impacts and risks associated with fracking, and (2) we trusted that DOGGR has the environment and public health in mind in its drafting. However, since we don’t know either of these things, I’m less than excited about this process.

What’s worse is that the “Discussion Draft” released by DOGGR and currently open to public comment is horribly inadequate. For one, the draft offers little protection for communities that live near fracking operations. In fact, since oil and gas companies only have to disclose their activity to the regulators 10 days prior to fracking, the regulators need only give the public 3 days notice on a website they need to check themselves. Further, provisions do not include requirements that would prevent the public from being exposed to harmful air emissions, wastewater contamination containing harmful chemicals such as benzene, and oil companies are not required to capture the methane produced, which is a seriously harmful greenhouse gas. And oil companies do not collect baseline data so there is no way to track the actual air quality and water quality impacts from fracking.

To guarantee that the public health and natural resources are not compromised, LA Waterkeeper urges DOGGR (and state legislators) to impose a fracking moratorium during which a thorough study of fracking impacts on natural resources and public health in California should be conducted. In the absence of a moratorium, we believe the Discussion Draft must be substantially revised as described in the recommendations below to ensure adequate protection of California’s residents and environment.

LA Waterkeeper Recommendations:

  • Fracking regulations must require compliance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and California’s Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) Program.
  • Fracking regulations must address the disposal of fracking wastewater via underground injection wells because this type of disposal method poses significant risks of ground and surface water contamination.
  • Fracking regulations must require operators to disclose the sources and volumes of water used in fracking, as well as the disposition, volume, and composition of wastewater associated with fracking operations.
  • Fracking regulations must require the collection of baseline water quality data before commencement of a fracking operation; groundwater testing must be conducted during and after completion of the fracking operation.
  • Operators should be required to notify the Department of Conservation and other applicable agencies and the public atleast 60 days before fracking and interested parties should be given the opportunity to submit comments.
  • The public and regulators should be immediately notified in the event of a spill.

Submit your own comments on DOGGR’s Discussion Draft to comments@conservation.ca.gov. To find out more about other issues that LA Waterkeeper is involved in, visit our website: www.lawaterkeeper.org

-Liz Crosson, Executive Director

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