Feb. 28, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Valley stands above an ancient, deep, dense, rock formation that holds a lot of oil. Heard of Saudi Arabia and how it has a lot of oil? Well, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Monterey Shale, from 7,000 to 15,000 feet below ground holds about 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, or about equal to what Saudi Arabia puts out over 10 years. Put another way, the Bakkan Shale, in North Dakota, where the big boom has been happening in recent years, holds a mere 3.6 billion barrels (recoverable).
Could this newly-accessible trove create energy independence for the United States and make California a major exporter of oil?
Local oil fields, including Sisar Creek, Lion Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Oak View and Shell Road ( on Highway 33 in the Ventura River watershed) are seeing an uptick in activity as oil companies prepare to revamp old wells and pipelines, drill new wells and lay new pipe.
This is encouraging state legislators to scramble to get ahead of the game — because contrary to popular belief, this sort of activity isn’t entirely regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bruce M. Kramer, with McGinnis Lochridge & Kilgore in Houston, is recognized as a leading legal scholar of oil, gas, energy and land-use issues. A former law professor at Texas Tech University School of Law, he recently authored a U.S. history of regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Also known as “fracking,” this well-completion technique is increasingly being used to extract oil or natural gas from rock formations by injecting sand, water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure after the normal drilling process has been completed.
Kramer was a presenter last month at a seminar on hydraulic fracturing in Santa Barbara. He discussed the history of fracking and its exemption from federal regulation under the Safe Water Drinking Act. (SWDA) The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) has a provision specifically calling out hydraulic fracturing as being “excluded from the Safe Drinking Water Act’s definition of underground injection.”
This mention of fracking in EPACT makes fracking unregulated under the SWDA which is aimed at protecting the nation’s drinking water supply.
“If we listen to the oil companies, this area is the biggest place they want to target, our community is in their cross hairs,” said State Assembly Member Das Williams, whose district includes the Ojai Valley. “This is a really important issue for our community; we don’t know how many wells have been fracked in Ventura County and the Ojai Area.”
Earlier this week, Williams and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced two bills aimed at protecting the public’s drinking water.
“Fracking is a significant risk to the health and safety of our community,” said Williams. “These bills attempt to truth test what we are told about fracking.” Williams’ bill, AB-982, charges oil companies with monitoring groundwater near where they frack, by requiring them to test the quality of the water prior to and after fracking. “If hydraulic fracturing is safe, then I don’t understand why they have anything to fear from my bill,” pointed out Williams.
Jackson’s bill, SB-395, takes on the issue of the wastewater created from fracking. The fresh water that is combined with chemicals comes back up after fracking, creating a potentially harmful waste product that could impact water, land and air resources. SB-395 would “require that any fluids brought up during the fracking process be regulated as a hazardous waste by the Department of Toxic Substances Control, giving them the authority to ensure that the appropriate precautions are taken in how the wastewater is transported and disposed.”
The oil and gas industry points out that fracking near and through underground sources of water has been happening in California for decades without any harm. Miriam Gordon, California director of Clean Water Action, counters by saying, “Without monitoring, it’s like putting on a blindfold and saying you don’t see a problem. When no one but the operators know what chemicals are used in the process, it is hard to test to see if they are passing through the shale and other layers and reaching the aquifers,” she noted. “It’s especially challenging when no groundwater monitoring is required, at any time, in relation to the process. We applaud Assembly member Williams for this sensible solution.
The bills come two weeks after the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) testified with other stakeholders in Sacramento before state lawmakers, about the draft regulations put forward by DOGGR.
“There are plenty of problems with the draft regulations. They need to disclose when fracking is happening and what is in chemical mix,” said Williams. “The proprietary secret provision creates a loophole big enough to make the regulations meaningless.”
State law currently allows well operators to claim trade secret protections when it would compromise their competitive edge in the marketplace by releasing such information. The draft regulations include this allowance.
Ventura County Board of Supervisors will be hearing back from the County CEO’s office regarding their questions on hydraulic fracturing at a public hearing April 9 at 2 p.m. Time is allotted for public comment.
Visit www.fracfocus.org for information on wells fracked and voluntarily disclosed. Visit www.conservation.ca.gov to view the DOGGR draft regulations.