New Report: California Lags in
4/10/2013 - A new report on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in
California warns of the risks of irreversible contamination of
surface and groundwater near oil drilling sites, unless the
technique is carefully monitored and controlled.
Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in California: A Wastewater and
Water Quality Perspective is an independent analysis produced by
the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the
Environment (CLEE) and its new initiative, the Wheeler Institute for
Water Law & Policy (Wheeler Institute).
Fracking is a technique that injects highly pressurized chemical
fluids into underground rock to create cracks that release tightly
bound oil or gas.
It’s become a financial boon to fossil fuel
companies nationwide, but it comes with inherent dangers.
The risks of fracking include toxic chemicals and known carcinogens
that can seep into ground and surface waters, posing a threat to
human health, aquatic life, and ecosystems.
If the fracking wells
and wastewater are mishandled, according to the report, the results
may be harmful, costly, and impossible to reverse.
general practice of fracking is not new—oil and gas producers have
employed it in California for many decades.
What is new, and
potentially alarming, are projections of dramatically increased
activity in California driven by advanced technologies and a demand
“The rapid spread of fracking has outstripped the ability of state
agencies to effectively monitor and regulate it.
include a greater investment in industry oversight, stronger
regulations, and heightened inter-agency cooperation,” said Jayni
Foley Hein, a report co-author and executive director of Berkeley
Law's environmental research center.
“Regulators need to protect the
public interest by demanding greater transparency and increased
accountability across all fracking operations.”
The report coincides with a request by the state’s Department of
Conservation for comment on its “discussion draft” regulations.
agency’s draft addresses elements such as well construction,
testing, and storage and handling of wastewater.
But it fails to
adequately address risks to California’s water resources, according
“The draft regulations are an important first step, but the state
must widen its scope to protect public health and avoid any
contamination of surface and groundwater,” Hein said.
In an unusual twist that is contrary to its role as a leader in
environmental protection law, California lags behind other states on
hydraulic fracturing regulation. Wyoming, Ohio, and other states set
stronger standards for transparency, safety, and environmental
But, even in those cases, gaps in agency oversight may
have contributed to water contamination and greater seismic
California needs to raise the bar even higher, said co-author
Michael Kiparsky, associate director of the Wheeler Institute.
“Part of the challenge of fracking is that the technology is
constantly evolving,” said Kiparsky, an environmental scientist.
“It’s essential that regulators not only understand the impacts of
new technologies, but also study the lessons learned elsewhere to
prevent an increased risk of earthquakes, water pollution, and toxic
Kiparsky said scientific uncertainty, due to a lack of peer-reviewed
studies, drives the need for more research on fracking’s potential
The report’s key recommendations include:
Advance notice and disclosure
• Operators should provide at least 30 days public advance notice of
any hydraulic fracturing event.
• State agencies should develop a formal process for concerned
citizens to respond to proposed fracking events in their
Tracking waste and disposal
• Agencies should require more extensive recordkeeping and reporting
on disposal of wastewater.
• Agencies should consider using new techniques like tracers to
identify and track potential contaminates.
Protecting underground sources of drinking water
• The state should strengthen its definition of underground sources
of drinking water to match or exceed that of U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA).
• California should develop a well closure and monitoring program,
following EPA guidelines.
• Underground injection should be prohibited near risky faults based
on a seismic analysis.
Reuse and recycle
• The state legislature should consider tax exemptions to encourage
recycling of fracking wastewater.
• Regulations should explicitly prohibit direct discharge of
wastewater from oil and gas operations to publicly-owned treatment
works until the EPA issues pretreatment guidelines.
• The state should fund a comprehensive scientific review of the
risks to California water supplies from fracking wastewater.
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