Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Fracking disclosure dispute doesn't clear the air about oil and gas production

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Anti-fracking activists are complaining that disclosure requirements about well stimulation are failing, but regulators overseeing oil and gas production in California say those opponents to fracking are overreacting. The dispute points up the ongoing problems around what the public knows about oil and gas production in California. 

At issue is what should be in reports oil and gas producers submit to DOGGR, the state’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, as a result of state law. The Center for Biological Diversity identifies more than 100 “violations” of S.B. 4, the law mandating such disclosures, in a letter to Governor Jerry Brown.

CBD relies on evidence of well activity gathered from other sources: either submitted to FracFocus, an industry-run disclosure site, or reported to the South Coast Air Quality Management. (AQMD has required oil and gas producers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties to submit information about when they’re planning to frack, and what chemicals they’ll use to do it.)

With that information, CBD describes problems in which producers may not have notified the state of fracking, chemicals in fracking fluid aren’t listed, and events aren’t described as they should be on the DOGGR site.

“Californians have repeatedly been left uninformed about many dangerous well stimulation activities occurring in their communities,” writes Hollin Kretzmann, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity. The CBD continues to seek a moratorium on well stimulation through fracking, gravel-packing or other controversial methods, and his letter underscores that point. “The lack of reporting is just one of several shortcomings of current regulations that make clear that the law provides inadequate protection for public health and safety.”

In response, DOGGR’s Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall, released a statement, saying, essentially, don’t worry about it:

The Department is aware that there are some operations that have not yet been reported on the Department's website.  Some of the submittals received by the Department have been inadequate, and the Department has chosen to not post this incomplete information. These submittals will be promptly posted when they are complete. The Department is working to ensure submittals are both timely and complete, and would consider taking appropriate enforcement action if necessary.

As for the discrepancies between what the AQMD knows, and what the state knows, Marshall dismisses those as irrelevant too. Gravel packing, he says, is a “routine well maintenance activity.” And acid is “commonly used in routine well maintenance.” So, he reasons, DOGGR doesn’t need to know about them.

It’s clear that disclosure requirements are politicized, not to mention the law itself – oil field operators blame them for permitting delays and job loss. On the anti-fracking side, environmentalists are leaning on what is disclosed to make a case for an outright ban, something they couldn’t swing last year.

What’s not way more clear is what kind of chemicals well operators are using, or when they’re using them. The information’s still piecemeal and incomplete, and in this region, hard to match up between AQMD and DOGGR. And that makes understanding what’s happening with well production, including in urban areas,  more difficult. 



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