EDITOR’S NOTE: CALIFORNIA GOV. JERRY BROWN RELEASED DRAFT REGULATIONS TUESDAY, DEC. 18 THAT WOULD FURTHER REGULATE HYDROLOGIC FRACTURING IN THE STATE. Visit www.fracfocus.com TO SEE A LIST OF LOCAL WELLS THAT HAVE BEEN FRACKED AND THE CHEMICALS THAT WERE REPORTEDLY USED IN THAT PROCESS.
Nov. 13, 2012
Marianne Ratcliff, OVN correspondent
Ventura County supervisors Steve Bennett and Peter Foy went head-to-head Tuesday, as they debated urging state officials to pass laws that would ensure public disclosure of where hydraulic fracturing occurs, what chemicals are used in the process and requesting assurance that the groundwater would be protected when it is used.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is a drilling technique to extract oil or natural gas from rock formations by injecting sand, water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure. Currently, there is no requirement in California, nor in most other states, to report what chemicals are used.
Although there are several oil wells in the Ojai Valley area, it is not currently known how many wells may have been fracked locally.
“If there’s no problem, then there shouldn’t be any problem with disclosure of what’s going on,” said Bennett, who proposed the action with Supervisor John Zaragoza.
“I think we all agree we need to protect our water supply in Ventura County, there’s no question about it,” said Foy. He said he is opposed, however, to requesting state legislation on hydraulic fracturing before the County Executive Office
(CEO) staff’s March 2013 report to the supervisors.
Foy said that if the CEO staff is being asked to report on fracking, it should include information about the jobs, salaries and tax revenue generated by the oil industry in Ventura County.
Sandra Burkhart, senior coastal coordinator for the Western States Petroleum Association, told the supervisors that according to a survey of WSPA members in 2011, 628 wells in California were hydraulically fractured. Also, she said, this summer, WSPA members “began voluntarily disclosing their hydraulic fracturing activities” on www.fracfocus.org, a project of the Groundwater Protection Council. She said WSPA members are in six states and that its members include crude oil producers who account for 80 percent of crude oil production in California.
“In California,” she claimed, “hydraulic fracturing has been utilized to produce oil from both shale and nonshale formations for more than 60 years. It is a well-understood and proven technology.” She suggested that county staff “work with the State Department of Conservation on their proposals for regulating hydraulic fracturing before seeking any legislative action.”
However, the county proposal passed 3-1, with Foy dissenting. Supervisor Linda Parks was absent for the vote. “I have no problem with what the CEO staff is doing,” Foy said. “I just have a problem with the last paragraph in this letter. I just won’t support that.”
That paragraph reads: “We encourage the enactment of urgency legislation to require the advance public disclosure of fracking locations and fracking chemicals, the adoption of state regulations to assure the protection of groundwater when fracking occurs, require reporting of the source and amount of water used, and requirements to assure that wastewater disposal does not pose a significant risk to water supplies, people or natural resources.”
The supervisors’ written proposal asks for the CEO report to include:
• The amount and source of fresh water used or expected to be used in local “fracking” operations
• The method and location of disposal of local fracking wastewater
• The extent of the county’s authority over fracking and wastewater disposal and the ability to regulate new wells
• The areas of the county where known petroleum deposits lie under usable aquifers
• The areas of the county with Monterey Shale formations
• The status of state regulations
• The means of obtaining disclosure of fracking locations and fracking chemicals
• The prospects for additional fracking in Ventura County
In May, a public hearing in Ventura on fracking organized by the state’s Conservation Department, was attended by approximately 175 people. It was one of seven hearings the Department is conducting in the state as it prepares draft regulations on fracking.
“We are always trying to protect drinking water and (water) for our farmers,” Zaragoza said. “What is fracking really doing? What kind of information do we have regarding what happens to the wastewater? Is the pressure being initiated going to cause an earthquake? We need more information for the public.”
“There have been millions of fracking treatments without any major incidents,” Foy said. “We couldn’t find any. I asked my staff, ‘Go find anything you could.’”
He added that franking typically occurs at depths of 6,000 to 10,000 feet — “far below” local water tables, which are typically 100 to 500 feet deep.
“From my standpoint, I don’t have a problem with the CEO doing his work on this, but let’s not go down the path of asking for legislation we don’t have any information on.”
Energy independence is “very important,” Foy added, noting the role of natural gas as a cheap energy source.
He urged the other supervisors to ask: “What can we do to bring the opportunity of jobs and everything else? Ventura County does have a lot of oil and potential for oil, no question about it. A lot of leases have been put out,” Foy said. “But I agree we should look at it, but from the perspective of how it can help us and what do we as a county need to look at without any problems?”
When Zaragoza asked Burkhart how wastewater is disposed of in fracking operations, she said hydraulic fluids are regulated by the California State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the California Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, adding that there are a variety of disposal methods and types of water used in the process. “About 85 percent of what comes up is water, some kind of wastewater that’s already in the ground — so you have your fracking fluids down there and you have this wastewater fluid that’s down there too, that all comes up together. There’s a variety of different ways they can dispose of it. There’s even been some creative uses of providing it for agricultural uses or for golf courses.”
Bennett said it is important to know more about fracking in Ventura County — such as if it is occurring near the Fox Canyon Aquifer or the Ventura River Watershed, most of which lies in the Ojai Valley — and if it poses any risk.
“If it doesn’t pose any risk, everyone ought to be fine with this kind of disclosure,” he re-asserted.
To see the video discussion of this issue, item No. 55 on Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors’ agenda, log on to http://ventura.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=67&clip_id=3045.