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California Debates How To Regulate Fracking

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Scott Detrow, KQED

The Sacramento workshop was the third of five public hearings on CA's new fracking regulations.

The latest step in California’s long march toward new hydraulic fracturing regulations took place in a Sacramento hotel ballroom Thursday.

For six hours, representatives from the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources walked members of the public through nine pages of draft regulations aimed at governing how energy companies use chemical-laced fluid to extract oil from the ground.

Fracking isn’t new in California. It’s been a standard step in oil drilling here for decades. But recent surveys indicate Northern California’s Monterey Shale may be one of the largest oil fields in the country. Extracting oil and gas from shale rock is a much larger undertaking than California’s traditional oil operations. Shale wells can stretch miles underground, and use millions of gallons of water.
 
California’s proposed regulations require companies to provide the state with a host of information at least 10 days prior to beginning fracking operations. That wasn’t enough time for the people who spoke during the workshop. Several called for 30-day notice.
 
Department of Conservation Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall said the suggestion has come up at several of the workshops. “That’s a great comment, and one we’re really looking strong at,” he said.
 
Workshop attendees also asked the state to take a more proactive approach to notifying people about fracking operations near their homes.
 
“Saying that people near oil drilling have to monitor the Internet to see if anyone’s proposing fracking is patently absurd,” said Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group. “What’s wrong with a 44-cent envelope to surrounding property owners?”
 
State Oil and Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic said the state is developing an interactive map that would allow users to pick a geographic location, and request alerts when energy companies file notices for intent to drill within a certain radius.
 
“Whether it be a half-mile, quarter mile, five miles ... and if we receive a notice of intent … you will automatically receive an email saying that we’ve received a notice, with a link," Kustic said. "Then you can click on that link and see what the document is we received. We’re working on that.”
 
Kustic said the goal is to finish the site within the year.
 
Environmentalists and drilling skeptics in the audience were less satisfied with officials’ answers on language requiring energy companies to publically disclose chemicals used during the fracking process. Like every other drilling state, California’s regulations would allow drillers to keep chemicals deemed trade secrets confidential. If medical professionals or other emergency responders need the proprietary information, they would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
 
Department council Justin Turner explained the language is dictated by existing California law protecting trade secrets.
 
“We in our regulations can’t abridge that statutory right," he said. "We have to work around that.”
 
The Department of Conservation will hold two more public hearings, in Monterey and Santa Barbara.
 
“The next step as we’re envisioning it right now is that we’ll finish up the workshops, we’ll take the comments back ... and then we’ll be putting out actual draft regulations through the administrative procedures act,” explained Jason Marshall. “It’s a little bureaucratic process-y, but it’s how we have to go through the development of a regulation.”
 
Marshall said it will be another 16 months before California’s fracking regulations go into effect.
 
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