March 19, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
According to records voluntarily posted by some operators at www.fracfocus.org, hydrolic fracturing, also known as fracking, has been used to increase the yield in about a dozen oil wells in Ventura County.
Since reporting of fracking is currently not required in California, environmental groups and others wonder what the true count is, since the industry says they have been doing it here for decades.
“We do have a very large, very nearly flat formation,” said Dr. Tom Williams, a lifetime member with the Sierra Club of California. “California is highly susceptible to East Coast-style fracking.”
After a public hearing in Bakersfield last week regarding the development of statewide fracking regulations, Williams added, “For the best fracking they need the harder and brittle rocks; (you) can’t frack sand and gravel. (There are) lots of formations under Ojai with hard shales of more than 200 feet thick, over 2,000 feet deep and areas of over 2,000 acres.”
Williams has PhDs in geology and zoology from the University of California-Berkeley, and has worked for more than 15 oil and gas companies, onshore and offshore, in the U.S., Peru, Japan, Egypt and Kenya, as well as for the government of Dubai.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Wait until oil is over $100 a barrel,” said Williams. He points out that will make the sometimes-costly fracking process more lucrative.
“I have concern that fracking is (currently and has been) completely unregulated,” said Upper Ojai resident Marianne Ratcliff after the workshop. Ratcliff lives on property that holds some of the oldest oil wells in the state, some drilled in the 1860s.
“Prop 65 is a California law that requires toxic spills to be reported. It doesn’t make sense that frack fluids with 27 known carcinogens can be injected into the earth and potentially onto the surface with absolutely zero reporting requirements,” Ratcliff stated.
When asked if she believes wells have been fracked on her property she responded, “I know they have, we saw it, the Halliburton and Dow trucks and the well record.”
Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation (DOC), acknowledged that Ratcliff isn’t the only one feeling frustrated with the system. “(I see the) passion that the public has around this issue,” he said. “(They have heard) about the process and already assume it to be dangerous. It is hard for us to create information without it appearing to be propaganda … to better educate the public. The public is not part of the process, not aware of where oil comes from. It’s a big black box … when the public knows more it will become less hostile.”
“Hydraulic fracturing is an inherently dangerous activity which needs to be banned in California. The water, air and earth deserve greater protection than what DOGGR is providing,” said Jonathan Evans, staff attorney with The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “We have attended and will attend all hearings so that DOGGR knows they are being closely scrutinized. The draft regulations are woefully inadequate and (DOGGR) has a long way to go to make hydraulic fracturing safe in California.”
The CBD has recently filed suit against DOGGR, charging, according to the complaint, that permits issued by The Division violate the state mandate: To prevent, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property, natural resources, or underground or surface waters.
“There is no groundwater baseline (testing requirements) in the proposed regulations,” said Williams. He suggested that such testing be included in the final draft regulations. Baseline testing refers to information gathered prior to any fracking, so that post-fracking tests have a baseline to be compared against to confirm whether or not fracking had any impact on that water source.
“In determining whether surrounding (underground) strata are protected, who is making the determination? What are the standards? Is there any review?” asked David Hobstetter with the CBD, regarding the draft regulations.
“The regulations require operators to submit an evaluation about whether the fractures will reach a confining layer,” answered DOGGR’s Tim Kustic, referring to a geological formation that does not allow water to easily pass through it. “If it’s an oil field and it has trapped oil for thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years, it’s probably a confining layer. If a fracture could reach that layer, then (the operator will) have to evaluate to make sure that the fracture will stop at it, will not penetrate it … there is not specific standards in these regulations as to exactly how you do that, but there will be a review of the information they send to us.”
“The agency relies on self testing, self monitoring and self reporting. So what safeguards do you have that the operators are giving accurate information? ” asked Ratcliff.
DOGGR staff responded that they have used this method of oversight “with success” for many years.