California’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOG) recently conducted the seventh and final workshop in a series of public workshops designed to seek public input on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the state. The July 25 workshop was held at the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) headquarters in Sacramento.
Following the pattern of the prior workshops conducted throughout the state, the workshop began with a brief presentation by representatives of the DOC and the DOG, including DOC Director Mark Nechodom, DOC Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall, and DOG Supervisor Tim Kustic. The meeting was then opened for public comment. HGA attorney Eric Adair attended and live-tweeted the workshop, providing a very brief synopsis of the presentations made by Messrs. Nechodom, Marshall, and Kustic, as well as the comments made by numerous members of the public. Mr. Adair’s Twitter report of the workshop may be found here (courtesy of Twitter colleague @HunterSquared: Follow @HunterSquared).
The DOC distributed two handouts as part of its presentation at the workshop: “Hydraulic Fracturing in California” (pdf), which depicts various aspects of oil and gas drilling operations and related fracking information, and “The Rulemaking Process” (pdf), which describes the process that the DOC will undertake as it considers the adoption of fracking regulations.
Mr. Adair briefly addressed the DOC on two main points. First, while commending the DOC for evaluating the need to develop regulations specifically directed at fracking, Mr. Adair pointed out that oil and gas activity in California is already strictly regulated, a point also made by Mr. Kustic. Governing statutes and regulations may be found in “California Laws for Conservation of Petroleum & Gas” (pdf), a 114-page compilation of California’s oil and gas-related statutes, and in a 124-page compilation of regulations from Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations (pdf). The DOC may not currently have any fracking-specific regulations, but it has extensive authority to regulate all oil and gas activity in the state, including fracking.
Mr. Adair also addressed the need to ensure that the voice of science is heard above the many loud voices on all sides of the fracking debate. The DOC should not rush into regulation of fracking without fully assessing the available science, much of which is still in a state of flux. Research is currently being conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, and there is a host of other available scientific research, both completed and in progress, that should inform the rulemaking process. The DOC should be commended for inviting and encouraging public comment and input. But its regulatory efforts must be guided, first and foremost, by science.
There was no shortage of public and media attention given to the workshop. A substantial anti-fracking rally preceded the meeting (photos available here, here and here), and two media outlets ran stories about the workshop (here and here).
As Mr. Marshall explained, the DOC will now undertake the rulemaking process. While the timing of that process is uncertain, draft regulations may be available as early as Fall 2012, although that will likely trail later into 2012 or even early 2013. The rulemaking handout generally describes the process, which will include opportunities for public comment, both in writing and at public meetings that will be scheduled once draft regulations are published. Assuming, as is likely, that fracking regulations are adopted, that will likely happen sometime in 2013.
It is not possible to predict the exact content of future California fracking regulations. We expect, however, that they will include some form of a disclosure requirement, similar to the currently-pending Assembly Bill 591, which would require the disclosure of fracking operations and the chemicals used, either on the Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry or on some other publicly-available resource. Less likely is a pre-notification requirement, such as was proposed by Senate Bill 1054, which would require oil and gas drillers to disclose to neighboring property owners and occupants of scheduled fracking operations. That bill was rejected in committee in May and has not shown any signs of being revived. Assembly Bill 972, which would impose a moratorium on fracking pending the DOC’s development of fracking regulations, remains in play. At the risk of mis-reading the political tea leaves, however, we do not believe that legislation will find enough support to become law, provided that the DOC continues to make progress toward adoption of fracking regulations.
The DOC also conducted a Hydraulic Fracturing Informational Seminar (video) on July 2, with speakers from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy. The lengthy video provides a good discussion of many of the issues that California now faces as it evaluates the continued role of fracking in the state.