A controversial technique for extracting oil and gas from California’s shale reserves is facing new scrutiny in California. But it’s easier to describe what current rules for fracking are not, rather than what they are.
Fracking, or more formally, hydraulic fracturing, is a practice by which oil and gas explorers drive fluid into fissures in sediment and rock in order to force the fossil fuels out. The fluid’s usually water, at least 90 percent of it, mixed with a “proppant” – sand or grit to “prop” open the space in the rock – and chemicals usually making up less than 1 percent of the mix.
In California, oil and gas producers don’t need a special permit to frack a well, just an initial permit to drill or rework a site. The state’s Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, asks companies to disclose the practice, voluntarily, but doesn’t require that. Nor does DOGGR, as it’s called, require companies to say where they’re fracking, what chemicals they’re using and in what volume, how much water the practice requires, or what happens with the water that’s used.
Activists say that’s shocking, especially since historic records show fracking has happened in California for 60 years.
Now DOGGR is circulating what it calls a “discussion draft” of regulations – an informal set of rules meant to prompt public discussion. The discussion draft is a precursor to draft regulations, which will undergo formal scrutiny in order to be approved.
Defenders of the practice point out that, after all, it’s been happening in California since the 1960s. A limited industry-reported analysis of California fracking practices compared to those in the Marcellus Shale has found that less water is necessary for fracking in California. California’s geology, in which seismic faults fold, raise and lower rock strata, may limit the kind of techniques that work.
Regulators are holding three public hearings, in Los Angeles, in Bakersfield, and in Monterey, to “workshop” the rules.