March 19, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Following a public hearing in Bakersfield last week, regulators are one step closer to drafting state-wide hydraulic fracturing regulations.
“When a well is hydraulically fractured (it is our intention to) make sure those wells have an increased level of monitoring or oversight,” said Tim Kustic, state oil and gas supervisor at the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), at the meeting.
Just two hours away from Ventura County, Bakersfield sits in the hotbed of California oil production. Oil wells pump throughout that community, even in parking lots of office buildings in town. According to a 2009 DOGGR report, Kern County accounts for one-tenth of U.S. oil production and boasts the third largest oil field in the country.
What does this have to do with the Ojai Valley? Kern County is prepping for an oil boom, and the same underground formation holding newly accessible oil under Kern County — the Monterey Shale — also lies under Ventura County, and the Ojai Valley.
Western States Petroleum Association spokesperson Nick Ortiz defended the practice at last week’s meeting. “Hydraulic fracturing has been safely and effectively employed in California for over 60 years. It is vital to the state’s economy and central to the Division’s statutory mandate to ensure environmental integrity while increasing the ultimate recovery of the state’s petroleum resources. Responsible development of the state’s resources helps improve the quality of life for all Californians.”
According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Democrat Committee on Energy and Commerce, 14 leading oil and gas companies in 13 states used “more than 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, not including water … containing 750 different chemicals and other components. The companies used 29 chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens,” between 2005 and 2009.
DOGGR, or “The Division,” as it is called by staff, operates under laws and mandates provided in the California Public Resource Code (PRC). It says that the Division is charged with supervising the drilling, operations and abandonment of wells “so as to prevent damage to life, health, property and natural resources, damage to underground oil and gas deposits from infiltrating water … loss of oil, gas or reservoir energy, and damage to underground and surface waters suitable for irrigation or domestic purposes by the infiltration of, or the addition of, detrimental substances.”
In addition, the PRC says the DOGGR supervisor “Shall administer this division so as to encourage the wise development of oil and gas resources.”
Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation (DOC) responded to statements made by oil industry spokespeople requesting that regulations not hinder the industry. “We will be working on this over the next year. We are writing regulations, but those that are being regulated are the ones that actually know how they work,” he said. “The fundamental bottom line is that these regulations are intended to protect public health and safety. Let me be absolutely emphatic, this regulation is not meant to be onerous but it is absolutely first and foremost to protect the public’s health — and safety it is not to protect the profits of the oil and gas industry.”
A recurring concern at the Bakersfield hearing — and always a part of the discussion around fracking — is the protection of sources of fresh water. Those who are not familiar with the process may have a hard time imagining how it does not endanger the water used for drinking and agriculture. Those in the industry point to the safe long-time use of fracking.
“We support strong regulation that protects groundwater, it’s just good business. We also live where we work,” said Blair Knox, director of Public Affairs with California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), during his prepared comments at the end of the Bakersfield workshop. “We have a long and successful history of protecting groundwater in this state. We are very proud of that fact.”
Another topic about which the public and environmental groups had questions was the ability of companies to claim trade secret protection regarding chemicals they may use during fracking.
“We are not inventing trade secret laws. California, and every other state, has adopted the Uniform Trade Secret Act (UTSA),” said Justin Turner, senior staff counsel at DOC. “The UTSA allows companies in any industry to protect information that gives them a competitive advantage. We can’t abdicate that law.”
“I understand that this is governed by the UTSA, that’s fine … Yes, a company may have a trade secret, but does that automatically mean they can inject their trade secrets into the ground?” asked Ojai resident Marianne Ratcliff.
“No it does not,” responded Turner. “Trade secret comes into play with regard to the public disclosure provisions.”
“So can DOGGR say … you may not put any (substance) that you don’t disclose (to the public) in the ground?” asked Ratcliff. “Is that within your purview?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” said Turner.
“That would be my recommendation, that DOGGR do that,” said Ratcliff.
“There is a real concern here that you are hearing repeatedly from the public and will continue to hear, about the UTSA trumping public health and welfare,” said Evans.
The draft regulations do include provisions for regulatory agencies to have access to all chemical information when they need to investigate or respond to a spill. The regulations also provide access to information for health professionals treating for exposure to chemicals.
The public had opportunity to speak about any items related to the discussion draft that may not have been included on the official agenda. The oil industry representatives present took this opportunity to speak.
“I have heard a lot of troublesome accusations, which are of concern,” said Les Clark with the Independent Oil Producers Agency. He responded to suggestions for increasing the fines for violations by saying, “Most people don’t realize, we pay for it all anyway. Everything that we do through DOGGR is assessed through our hide. I want to make sure the public knows that it’s no free ride here. It’s not coming out of the government’s general fund, it’s coming out of our pockets.” Clark referred to the laws with assessment fees on oil and gas producers that are held by the state in an oil and gas fund used to pay for the activities of DOGGR. “And I am on three water quality committees. Water — that is the bottom line. It’s not oil, it’s water.”
“There shall be no corners cut,” said Nechodom in his concluding statement. “And for those of you who have reported to me today some fairly disturbing reports of corners being cut or violations happening and not reported, I can assure you that you need to come forward and tell us about it, you have my number. We serve the public. We work for the people of the state of California.”
DOGGR regulators are holding a third hearing in Santa Barbara in April. The date was not released as of press time.
Other workshops will be held in Monterey and Sacramento before a final draft is written.
To read the draft regulation, visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dog
Members of the public who wish to comment about the discussion draft of regulations can email email@example.com.