State updates new well stimulation activities

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The Department of Conservation has released new proposed revisions on hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation operations for oil and gas companies, six months after the Legislature passed regulations governing oil exploration activities.

In a conference call with reporters on June 17, state regulators outlined the revised guidelines that they anticipate will become part of the exiting regulation under Senate Bill 4 (D- Pavley), which have been in effect since Jan. 1. On Nov. 15, Conservation, which regulates oil and gas activities in California, announced a set of interim regulations that will be superseded by the new changes.

“There are significant differences between the version released last November and this revised version, thanks in no small part to some helpful recommendations received during the initial public input process, as well as extensive consultation with other regulatory agencies,” Department of Conservation Director Mark Nechodom said in a statement. “This is a more detailed set of regulations.”

The new proposals also pertain to hydraulic fracturing, which is commonly known as fracking. The oil exploration procedure uses water injection to access oil and natural gas in areas where those energy supplies are trapped in rock and sand formations.

Department of Conservation Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall answered questions about the new revisions for approximately 45 minutes. He said state regulators had received approximately 150,000 responses to the draft regulations that were disseminated to the public in November through the mail, email and telephone calls.

The new revisions will have a 45-day comment period, an atypical amount of time because the use time for the public to review new data is 15 days, Marshall said.

“We want the public to get sufficient time to look at the revisions,” the deputy director explained.

Some of the key alterations include how seismic activity during and after well stimulation treatment is tracked. That provision of SB 4 has been expanded and now operators will be required to include use of the California Integrated Seismic Network when well stimulation takes place.

The California Integrated Seismic Network is an agency that works with state and federal agencies to monitor earthquakes.

“If an earthquake occurs within the sphere of a well stimulation job at that time or ten days after, an operator has to do analysis with the [seismic network] before they can do another job,” Marshall explained.

Specified evaluations would be mandated if an earthquake larger than magnitude 2.0 occurs within the vicinity of a well stimulation treatment.

A small group of Culver City anti-fracking activists have stated that they believe hydraulic fracturing could be the culprit in ruptures of underground pipes and can possible cause earthquakes. Frack Free Culver City, a local group that organized two years ago to advocate a ban on hydraulic fracturing, lists earthquakes as one of their concerns regarding fracking.

“These new, experimental procedures are known to trigger tremors and earthquakes, as in Arkansas, Ohio, etc,” wrote Dr. Suzanne DeBenedittis on a list of reasons why fracking should be outlawed in the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills, not far from DeBenedittis’ home.

Reports of earthquakes under oil wells where hydraulic fracturing or other well stimulation activities have occurred prompted officials in Ohio to take action. In April, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that it will require companies seeking horizontal well drilling permits within three miles of known fault lines or where earthquakes have already been recorded to install first a network of seismic monitors.

In March, seismologists determined that the epicenter of a 3.0 magnitude earthquake in Poland Township was directly under wells being drilled using hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Officials at the U.S. Geological Survey say there has been a rise in recent years of “noticeable earthquakes” of at least 3.0 magnitudes in the central and eastern United States. Marshall referenced Ohio when he explained California’s newly proposed requirement.

“While the history shows that hydraulic fracturing has not caused earthquakes, there is some question about the [disposal of wastewater] having caused earthquakes,” Marshall acknowledged.

Lawmakers and scientists in Los Angeles questioned whether a recent earthquake in Los Angeles was due to fracking.  But Dr. Lucille Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey, a foremost expert of seismology, said the disposal well was not deep enough and she did not believe fracking caused the tremor.

And oil industry representatives point out that the controversial oil extraction procedure has been practiced in California for more than six decades and has never been linked to earthquakes.

Other proposed revisions include the addition of a calculated acid volume threshold for the purpose of “distinguishing between well stimulation treatment and other routine operations” and calculating the acid volume threshold on a case-by-case basis, the inclusion of more detail and specification to the requirements for an application for a permit to perform a well stimulation treatment and for engineering reviews that occur in connection the permit application.

Also, more detail and specification has been provided regarding public disclosure requirements for operators after they complete a well stimulation treatment, “in particular with regards to the disclosure requirements for the source, volume and composition of the water used and the volume and disposition of the water recovered after well stimulation occurs.”

The revised proposed regulations can be found on the Department of Conservation’s website at http://www.conservation.ca.gov/index/Pages/prpsregs.aspx.  Comments regarding the proposed regulations can be submitted via email to Division of Oil,  Gas and Geothermal Resources Regulations@conservation.ca.gov, via fax to (916) 324-0948; or via regular mail to the Department of Conservation’s Office of Governmental and Environmental Relations, located at 801 K Street MS 24-02, 95814, Attn: Well Stimulation Regulations.

Five public hearings, beginning in July, will be held throughout the state.

The public comment period closes July 28. The new rules will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

State updates new well stimulation activities