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On November 15, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), released its proposed regulations for fracking and other types of well stimulation, as stipulated by SB4. The regulations are the first in California to regulate fracking and acidizing. Although hailed by regulators and the oil industry as the toughest regulations in the country, they are not. Far from perfect, the regs leave much to be desired in the way of public health and environmental protection.

The proposed regulations do have some steps that move California in the right direction. For example, they:

  • Require a permit for the first time in California.
  • Mandate disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking and acidizing. If a trade secret exemption is claimed, the information will still be available to state officials, emergency responders, and health professionals.
  • Require a notice that a fracking job will occur to all property owners and tenants 30 days prior to the start of the project.
  • Provides water monitoring, before and after the project, to be paid for by the operator of the well.
  • Require well operators to report any seismic events that measure 2.0 magnitude or above.

Unfortunately, the proposed regulations are also loaded with giveaways for the oil industry. In many aspects, it seems that DOGGR has done the minimum required by SB4, and ignores the needs of the environment, and the rights of Californians. Additionally, the regulations fail to address some of the most pressing concerns that will come from fracking and acidizing – decreased air quality, and increased greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Regulations based on science, that put the needs of Californians above those of corporate profits, will help protect people and the environment. The proposed regulations do not do this, and have been written in a way that circumvents existing California law. For example:

  • Definitions, as written, regarding well stimulation, particularly acidizing, do not conform to accepted definitions used in previous reports, research, and data. DOGGR seems to be attempting to redefine the procedures so regulations don’t apply to some types of well stimulation.
  • Permits would not be required for acidizing jobs where the concentration of acid is less than 7%. There is no basis or explanation as to why this percentage was chosen.
  • Definitions of “protected waters” in the regulations do no conform to standard definitions used in California regulations governing water, and followed by Water Control Boards.
  • The current DOGGR regulations require that tenants have a written contract to receive notification. This directly contradicts California regulations, which state that tenants do not need to have written contract of occupancy in order to be considered tenants. Many tenants in rural and minority areas do not have a written contract with their landlords.
  • The regulations do not require a CEQA review to be conducted for each well. CEQA allows for public input. Once a permit is issued, there is no way for the public to have any input or be able to stop fracking from happening in their neighborhoods.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed regulations before they go into effect. During that time, several public meetings will be held throughout the state, including:

Sacramento — January 6, Sierra Room, California Environmental Protection Agency Building, 10th & I streets, 3-7 p.m.
Long Beach — January 6, California State University-Long Beach Auditorium, 1212 Bellflower Boulevard, 3-7 p.m.
Bakersfield — January 8, Kern County Administrative Center, first floor board chambers, 1115 Truxtun Avenue, 3-7 p.m.
Salinas — January 8, National Steinbeck Center, One Main Street, 3-7 p.m.
Santa Maria — January 13, Santa Barbara County Supervisors Hearing Room, 511 East Lakeside Parkway, 3-7 p.m.

A written request by Earthworks and partners, as well as the office of Senator Pavley (the main author of SB4) for an extension on the public comment period due to the holidays, was denied by DOGGR with no explanation. Any member of the public wishing to submit comments must do so by January 15, 2014. Comments can be submitted via email to DOGGRRegulations@conservation.ca.gov; via FAX to (916) 324-0948; or via regular mail to the Department of Conservation Office of Governmental and Environmental Relations, 801 K Street MS 24-02, 95814, Attention: Well Stimulation Regulations.

The major deficiencies in the proposed regulations must be corrected before they can be put into effect. The role of state agencies is to protect the public, not the oil industry. The public must be involved at all stages of development, allowing for transparency and legitimacy in the process.

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