State environmental officials last week requested that energy companies disclose where they conduct “fracking”operations and what chemicals they inject into the ground to tap oil deposits. They also were considering whether to launch an independent study to assess effects of the practice.
The administration plans to undertake a statewide “listening” tour for public comment on an extraction technique that until now has drawn the greatest attention in the Rocky Mountain West and Northeast, where the discovery of toxic chemicals in drinking water near fracking operations has sparked calls for moratoriums and more regulation.
Regulators have yet to develop rules or reporting requirements for the procedure in California, the fourth largest oil-producing state in the nation. Only 78 of the tens of thousands of oil field injection wells in California, where fracking might occur, are listed on a national fracking registry.
Though officials maintain that existing laws protect the state’s drinking water, they acknowledge they have little information about the scale or practice of fracking, causing growing anxiety in communities from Culver City to Monterey. The energy industry is touting the potential of the procedure here to tap the largest oil shale formation in the continental United States.
Mark Nechodom, director of the Department of Conservation, sought to assure lawmakers last week that the state was taking the issue seriously.
“If there’s been any impression that [the administration] has dismissed or ignored public concern about fracking, I apologize but it’s simply not true,” he said. “We share the concern.”
Lawmakers were not convinced. At a hearing Wednesday, they blasted the administration’s actions as little more than cosmetic tweaks, saying that regulations are long overdue for a state that is widely considered the birthplace of the modern environmental movement. Separately, they are pushing legislation that would require oil companies to disclose where they employ the procedure, what chemicals they use and how much water they pump. The bill stalled last year after objections by the energy industry.
“What the Legislature clearly has been saying we want is information and regulations,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael). “And we don’t have either.”
The lower house’s subcommittee on resources tabled the administration’s request for an additional 18 positions in the state’s oil and gas agency, noting that 35 positions had already been approved in the last two years, in part to develop fracking regulations. The state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst reported that 13 of those slots remain vacant.
“To kind of just go along and wait for a study…really isn’t acceptable,” said Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey). “There are other states who have prevented fracking from taking place until they have put those regulations into place. So why would California allow this to be happening without regulations?”
Nechodom, a former senior adviser and scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told lawmakers he was “a bit surprised” that California had no regulations on fracking, a common procedure at wells statewide, when Brown appointed him conservation director in December.