State lawmakers want tougher regulations for fracking

California lawmakers are discussing proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing or
California lawmakers are discussing proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." Environmentalists say the practice can pollute the air and groundwater.
Calif. Dept. of Conservation

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Energy companies use a technique called hydraulic fracturing to extract hard-to-reach oil and gas. Critics of the procedure call it "fracking." 

That's because fracking operators inject water and chemicals into existing oil wells. Opponents say it threatens the safety of groundwater and air. 

The oil wells involved in fracking are subject to state safety and environmental standards. But companies don’t have to report when they do it, or divulge what chemicals they inject into the wells.

That would change under draft regulations by California’s Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The agency's deputy director  Jason Marshall told state lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday “The operators are going to be required to provide us with -  at least 10 days prior to starting hydrolic fracturing operations - information such as the well they’re going to frack, who’s the operator.”

The draft regulations also require companies to monitor well before, during and after fracking for seepage. If they detect any, they have to stop, fix the problem and report it to the state.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) questioned the wisdom of relying on industry self-regulation.
“I think fracking is a different animal and needs to be treated with some serious concern,” she told state regulators.  “Particularly because we don’t know what the brew is, that is used, what the chemical combinations are, and their toxicity is.  And the industry doesn’t want us to know.”

Sen. Jackson criticized a provision in the draft regulations that would allow energy companies to opt out of reporting what kind of chemicals they use.  

But the Department of Conservation’s Jason Marshall says that if companies claim such information is a trade secret, they can’t keep it confidential if something goes awry.
“We would still be able to get at that information in event of a spill,  in the event that a physician is needing to treat a patient who’s been exposed, or if there was an agency investigating a potential source of water contamination.” Marshall said.
State regulators will hold a public hearing on the draft fracking regulations in Los Angeles next Tuesday.  They say it will take at least a year to pass new rules.