Environmentalists Didn't Care Much for New State Fracking Law, and That Was Before They Found Non-Compliance

Thursday, May 01, 2014
(photo: Ed Andrieski, Associated Press)

A vocal critic of controversial oil and gas drilling techniques, like fracking and acidization, was no fan of the California law passed last year that favored monitoring over a moratorium, and now says energy companies have committed more than 100 violations of its disclosure requirements.

In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, the Center for Biological Diversity said its analysis of records from the state, South Coast air quality regulators and the oil industry itself reveals a number of lapses.

No report was filed with the state on at least 47 fracking jobs in Southern California during the first two months of the year, the group alleged. Those reports are required to be filed with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources within 60 days of fracking.

Dozens more were posted late, and only then after the center notified the state of the lapses. Other reports were missing information about the chemicals used in the fracking and where the fracking waste water was disposed of. That information is critical and was at the heart of complaints by critics that monitoring is ineffective if it fails to identify all the chemicals used.

Oil and gas companies maintain that the toxic brew of chemicals that is injected into the ground, with enormous amounts of water under high pressure, to break up rock formations is a trade secret and should remain so. Techniques like fracking and acid stimulation, which injects large amounts of hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acid into wells to dissolve rock formations, are used to reach deposits out of reach via conventional drilling.

Much, but not all, of the waste water resulting from the drilling is then re-injected into a separate well. Or, at least, it's supposed to be. The center noted that one oil company in Kern County was recently fined for dumping the wastewater in an unlined pit.

Fifty-seven required notices of acidization in Los Angeles and Orange counties were also missing from the state's website, the center said. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) had reports of 51 instances in the two counties of gravel packing, another well stimulation technique that uses toxic chemicals, but those were also missing from the state website.

“These regulatory failures are another reminder of the urgent need to halt fracking to protect our air and water from contamination,” center attorney Hollin Kretzmann said.

Legislation to do just that, Senate Bill 1132, passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Wednesday. It prohibits further well stimulation with a moratorium until a study is complete. Fracking has been  linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sinkholes. The deadline for the study is June 30, 2016. 

Fracking and acid jobs, despite being around for decades, were not regulated in California at all until Senate Bill 4 was passed last September. Regulation became more imperative when new science and technology facilitated a rebirth of the state's oil and gas industry, reviving abandoned wells and dangling the possibility that 15.3 billion barrels of oil could be tapped in the state's Monterey Shale.

Many environmentalists were reluctantly supportive of the legislation but became apoplectic when last-minute amendments watered down reporting requirements and pretty much allowed business as usual until an environmental report is put together—in July 2015.

Senate Bill 4's supporters acknowledged many of its limitations at its time of passage, but emphasized that at least drillers would now be required to file reports with the state on their well-stimulation activities. One small step may have gotten a tad smaller. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Analysis Finds 100 Violations of California Fracking Disclosure Rules (Center for Biological Diversity)

Environmentalists Say State Has Withheld Required Fracking Information (by John Cox, Bakersfield Californian)

Concerned Californians Beat Back Big Oil Money for Now (Oil Change International)

Lawmakers OK Fracking Legislation with Giant Loopholes (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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