June 13, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
In a split vote, the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District Board (APCD) set aside staff recommendations and decided the county does not need to gather information about potential effects on air quality caused by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks had asked APCD staff to prepare a report and recommendations for the board regarding the rules recently passed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) that allows that body — which oversees air pollution in Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties — to gather information on fracking and other enhanced oil recovery techniques.
The APCD staff recommended that the board permit them to work with SCAQMD to examine whether a similar rule would be beneficial in Ventura County, to monitor the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) rule-making process for fracking that will begin sometime this summer and to “provide direction … to district staff on whether or not they should begin a rule-making effort on hydraulic fracturing and air quality.”
While California has detailed rules about well construction, there are no specific regulations regarding fracking, and no government body receives notification, actively tracks or otherwise monitors fracking.
DOGGR officials have admitted that their oversight is reliant upon self-monitoring, self-testing and self-reporting by the oil and gas companies.
“Frack fluids are used in quite high volumes compared to other chemicals we regulate,” said Mike Villegas, APCD air pollution control officer, during his report to the board. “Fracking is necessary. (The oil) will not come out without a man-made fracture.”
Villegas indicated that his office does not have the expertise in this field and that they had to rely heavily on DOGGR for information.
He listed three air pollution concerns as they relate to fracking: the compounds contained in the “flow back” water after fracking; the extensive use of diesel engines to pump the fluids into the well and to run other equipment needed on site; and the release of methane.
He reported that current regulations do not allow open-air pits or open-top tanks to store the produced water that comes up after drilling or fracking, and that methane that comes up must be contained or flared. Venting into the atmosphere is not allowed.
APCD board members, Supervisor Peter Foy, Supervisor Kathy Long, Camarillo City Councilman Mike Morgan and Fillmore City Councilman Doug Tucker, voted against the staff recommendations. Because it was a tie vote, the motion failed.
“Hydraulic fracturing has never been associated with any environmental harm,” said Sandra Burkhart, spokesperson for Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). WSPA opposed the staff recommendation, saying that DOGGR is the proper agency, with the proper expertise.
Chamber of Commerce groups from across the county, including Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo, also opposed the staff recommendations. Statewide, chamber groups are opposing local rules and moratoriums on fracking, supporting the view that local governments should wait for the DOGGR rules — expected to be implemented in summer 2014 — and that local rules will stress the already-tight job market.
During the board’s discussion, Parks submitted information that while some may suggest waiting for DOGGR to pass and implement rules on fracking, its jurisdiction is “down hole” while the county has jurisdiction above ground. She added that DOGGR does not have the ability to regulate air quality or pollution from fracking or any other enhanced recovery process used to complete wells. Parks mentioned the process of acidization, where hydrofluoric acid is used to “melt” the rocks and release oil and gas. The recommendations would have allowed information to be gathered on these processes as well.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used after drilling and conventional oil recovery, to “complete” the well and access the hard-to-get oil by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressures deep underground to break apart the rock formations and release the oil and gas.
Concerned Ventura County residents have questions about the use of the process here because of negative effects being reported across the country. Reports of water contamination, gag orders on settlements, air pollution, crops dying and more continue to cause concern.
“(Those) are not going to happen in California due to our regulations,” said Morgan during board discussion. “We have regulations that take care of all these problems.”
Following the hearing Morgan said, “It’s not fair to disregard the over 4,000 jobs in the county that rely on (the industry).” When asked how gathering information on fracking would result in fewer jobs Morgan said, “We have strong regulation. (If it becomes over-burdensome) we will lose business.”
Suggested Side Bar:
“How It Works: Hydraulic Fracturing,” this exhibit sponsored by Western State Petroleum Association will open June 27, at the Santa Paula Oil Museum, 1001 E. Main St. in Santa Paula. The exhibit will explore the technology of hydraulic fracturing from what it is, how it works, to the equipment and processes used. This exhibit will provide insight for those interested in learning more about the production process. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 adults, $3 for seniors, $1 students. Children 5 and younger and members are admitted free.
See www.oilmuseum.net or call 933-0076 for details.