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State Releases Draft of Proposed Fracking Regulations

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio

The State of California's Department of Conservation on Tuesday released a draft proposal for new regulations governing hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry, a practice also known as fracking.

The proposal calls for new well testing and chemical disclosure procedures designed to safeguard the environment and public health, but critics say the rules don't go far enough.

The Brown administration says the documents will serve as a starting point for a more formal rulemaking process that will begin next year. Environmental groups have raised concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing. They call the process largely unregulated, and say the chemicals used in the operations could pollute groundwater and pose health risks. Industry groups claim that the practice is safe. 

The state's proposal includes a provision that would require producers to test the structural integrity of wells before hydraulic fracturing begins. Testing would also be required both during and after production. Critics contend that some wells could fail when placed under pressure in the fracking process, potentially releasing chemicals beyond the well site.

The new proposal would also add disclosure requirements for producers who plan on fracking a well. Companies would have to notify the state at least ten days before any hydraulic fracturing takes place on a well. The regulations would then give the state seven days to post that information publicly on a website. However, some operations would be exempted from the regulations.   

Additionally, companies would have 60 days after a fracking operation is complete to disclose the types of chemicals they used on a well site. However, many companies claim their fracking fluids are "trade secrets" and the draft regulations include a provision that would allow producers to avoid public disclosure of those chemicals. Instead they would be required to only name the chemical family or provide a description of the chemical.

The proposal also calls for steps that would regulate the disposal of fracking fluids, and procedures for dealing with any spills of fracking chemicals. 

Environmental groups say that while the draft regulations are a positive step, they don't go far enough. Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group said in a statement that his organization "welcomes this discussion draft as an important first step, but it will need considerable improvement to be sufficiently protective of public health and the environment."

Allayaud says the regulations need to include before and after testing of groundwater quality, more stringent requirements for advance public notice of fracking activities, and greater disclosure of the chemicals used in the process, even those considered "trade secrets."

The draft rules are the result of a series of public meetings held throughout the state earlier this year. The Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources says it expects to begin the formal rulemaking process in February 2013.

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