On December 18, 2012, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released a “discussion draft” of its long-awaited regulations governing the oil and gas well stimulation technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The regulations may be found here on the blog (pdf) and on the Division of Conservation website (DOC). DOGGR also released a five-page narrative of the regulations and a set of FAQs.
In releasing the draft regulations, DOC and DOGGR noted:
The Department of Conservation/Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources on December 18, 2012 released a “discussion draft” of regulations for the oil and natural gas production technique known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). What does “discussion draft” mean? It means that this version does not kick off the formal rulemaking process. Instead, it is a starting point for discussion by key stakeholders – industry, the environmental community, and other regulators, as well as interested members of the public – in preparation for the more formal process, which probably will begin in early 2013. These “discussion draft” regulations include provisions for pre-fracturing well testing; advance notification; monitoring during and after fracturing operations; disclosure of materials used in fracturing fluid; trade secrets; and storage and handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids.
The draft regulations are the culmination of a several-months-long process undertaken by DOGGR, during which DOGGR conducted a series of public workshops and a fracking seminar, and invited public comments. At a September fracking symposium sponsored by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, Tim Kustic, outlined the anticipated scope of the regulations. We summarized Mr. Kustic’s remarks here. DOGGR’s draft regulations largely track the key elements of Mr. Kustic’s September outline and also capture the major concerns addressed in legislation introduced by Senator Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski on December 3, 2012, which we summarized here.
DOGGR’s proposal would add a new article to Chapter 4 of Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations (pdf). In brief summary, the new sections would provide as follows:
Noticeably absent from the draft regulations is any significant treatment of induced seismicity. Section 1784 would require analysis of faults, but that analysis is primarily focused on protection of water rather than prevention of induced seismicity. In the FAQs, DOGGR explains that “reports of induced seismicity associated with [fracking] are actually related to long-duration, high-volume injection of waste fluids in disposal wells. [Fracking] is a short-duration production well stimulation treatment.” California already has injection control rules in place that address waste fluid disposal well pressures. DOGGR concludes that “induced seismicity has not been an issue in California.”
As noted above, this “discussion draft” of the fracking regulations does not kick off the formal rulemaking process. DOGGR has promised to hold workshops to elicit stakeholder input on the regulations. DOC Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall indicated that at least three such workshops will be conducted, likely in Sacramento, Bakersfield, and the Los Angeles Basin. Additional workshops may be scheduled. Formal rulemaking is expected to begin in February 2013. The duration of that process will depend on the level of public participation and the possible need to revise the regulations to address public and stakeholder comments. DOGGR estimates that process will take eight to ten months, meaning the regulations could be enacted by late 2013. We will continue to monitor the rulemaking process and provide updates as circumstances warrant.
The release of these draft regulations marks DOGGR’s first effort to explicitly regulate fracking as a distinct well stimulation technique. DOGGR has not historically collected data on, or required disclosure of, fracking activities in California, largely because it is one of many well stimulation activities employed in the state, one that does not change the physical structure of the well and thus has not required a new or separate permit or even notification to DOGGR. Despite the past absence of explicit fracking regulations, fracking has not gone wholly unregulated. As DOGGR has previously stated,
California’s requirements for the protection of underground resources and well construction standards provide a first line of protection from potential damage caused by hydraulic fracturing. However, California’s regulations do not require notification to the Division when hydraulic fracturing occurs. There is a gap between the requirements placed on oil and gas operators to safely construct and maintain their wells, and the information they provide to the Division about hydraulic fracturing operations and steps taken to protect resources and the environment. The Department’s pending regulatory process is intended to close that gap.
With today’s release of the draft regulations, DOGGR has now begun to close that perceived regulatory gap.