Oil drilling in Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills, where fracking has taken place (photo: Natural Resources Defense Council)
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) approved regulations (pdf) last week governing the controversial oil and gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, despite foot-dragging by state regulators and over the objections of a defiant energy industry.
The new rules approved by the board require drillers to give notice when they are planning to commence fracking and let the public know what chemicals they will be pumping into the ground. The industry has fought doing either of those things and hinted they won’t abide by the ruling.
“We will turn our trade secrets over to the district if in fact there is a robust regulation that shows us those secrets will be protected,” Steven Flaherty of Halliburton told KPCC public radio. “We don’t believe this rule currently has those protections in place.”
Fracking, which is virtually unregulated in California although it has been around for decades, injects millions of gallons of pressurized water, chemicals (some toxic), sand and other substances into wells to crack open the rocks and allow easier access to oil and natural gas. Critics say it has been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sink holes.
Independent sources and the state estimate that more than 600 wells were fracked in 2011, but that’s just an estimate because drillers don’t have to disclose where they are fracking and what, precisely, they inject into the ground.
The state began working on fracking regulations last year, about the time it became apparent that the industry would make a major push to use the drilling technique to unlock vast potential shale oil resources in Central California. The federal government estimates that more than 60% of the nation’s shale oil is in the state and could produce 15.5 billion barrels of oil.
But the “discussion draft” of proposed state regulations released by the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources in December enraged environmental groups by eviscerating the notification process and giving drillers the last say on withholding vital information about the chemicals being used, ostensibly because they are trade secrets.
AQMD officials said the agency would not reveal industry trade secrets or other proprietary data when it posts fracking information to its website. The new rules give energy companies an opportunity to appeal fracking posts before they go public.
There are more that 4,000 active wells at 275 facilities in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including the Inglewood Oil Field, which is surrounded by homes in the heart of L.A. County and known to be a fracking site.