County supervisors await March report on fracking in Ventura County
By Marianne Ratcliff
Santa Paula News
Published: January 25, 2013
Concern over groundwater contamination and supply has spurred the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to call for a report on local hydraulic fracturing operations, due in March.
The well-completion process, commonly called fracking, extracts oil and gas from deep-rock formations by blasting water, sand and chemicals into the earth.
“No public agency knows the extent of fracking in Ventura County,” wrote supervisors Steve Bennett of Ventura and John Zaragoza of Oxnard, last month in a letter to fellow supervisors, asking them to request the report from County Executive Officer Mike Powers and to send a letter asking state legislators for “urgent legislation regarding hydraulic fracturing.”
“I think this is important to all of us and I expect we’ve all heard from different constituencies in our district,” said Supervisor Kathy Long of Camarillo, who represents Santa Paula and Fillmore, at the Dec. 11 meeting. “Two years ago, I started hearing from Fillmore questioning some activities. I started talking to county planning and learning what we don’t know.” Nationwide, there have been reports of adverse impacts of fracking to groundwater and communities, she said, “so, it is “important that we certainly assist our legislative leadership at the state level to move quicker to really give us a profile of do we know if there is exploration in our county that includes this technology of fracking and, if so, where? What regulations should we be looking for, for both the disclosure of how it’s done, what’s used and the safety to our community?”
“At present, we simply do not know enough about fracking to tell our constituents whether there is a significant risk from this process or not,” Bennett and Zaragoza wrote in their Dec. 11 letter to the board. “We do not know where fracking is occurring, where the fresh water comes from, or where the toxic wastewater goes.” They have asked the CEO report to include, among other issues:
-The amount and source of fresh water used or expected to be used in local “fracking” operations.
-The method and location of disposal of local fracking wastewater.
-The extent of the county’s authority over fracking and wastewater disposal and the ability to regulate new wells.
-The areas of the county where known petroleum deposits lie under usable aquifers.
-The areas of the county with Monterey shale formations.
-The status of state regulations.
-The means of obtaining disclosure of fracking locations and fracking chemicals.
-The prospects for additional fracking in Ventura County.
Peter Foy of Simi Valley was the only supervisor to vote against asking state legislators to pass laws “to require the disclosure of fracking locations and chemicals, identification of the source of and amount of fresh water used, and the adoption of regulations to assure protection of water supplies, people and resources from fracking operations and wastewater disposal.”
State draft regulations
Bennett has also criticized a “discussion draft” of proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations released by the state Department of Conservation on Dec. 18 for not being tough enough.
Foy said of the draft regulations: “It appears that the state is taking a reasonable approach. I have never been opposed to disclosure as well as the testing and monitoring of wells to ensure that operations are safe. What I am opposed to is overregulating a process that has been safely used for decades and would artificially reduce our ability to extract this resource. We should be maximizing our local sources of oil to reduce foreign dependency, and the jobs that go with it are crucial in our current economic situation.”
The state Department of Conservation/Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources plans to hold stakeholder workshops on the draft regulations. It is collecting written comments via e-mail to email@example.com. Once the formal rulemaking process begins, there will be a minimum 45-day public comment period and at least one public hearing.
The nonprofit law firm Environmental Defense Center, with offices in Ventura and Santa Barbara, is joining other environmental groups in calling for a moratorium on fracking in California until it is regulated. “The discussion draft regulations are small steps in the right direction, but, as a whole, they are insufficient,” said Brian Segee, EDC staff attorney in Santa Barbara. “There are a lot of major gaps in both the discussion draft regulations and legislation introduced this year. Neither requires prior notification to neighboring landowners and they do not address the loophole exemptions or the trade-secret exemptions.”
One of the loopholes he refers to is the 2005 Energy Bill that exempts energy companies from the underground injection control requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The new draft regulations also allow energy companies to withhold information about some fracking ingredients under a trade-secrets exemption.
Under the proposed regulations, operators would be required to submit information to DOGGR 10 days before fracking a well. That information would be posted on its public Web site within seven days and at least three days prior to the well being fracked. Operators would still be able to withhold information from confidential well records and to claim that some chemical recipes are trade secrets and so exempt from public disclosure, according to DOGGR. Its Web site on the proposed regulations states: “The proposed regulations require disclosure of trade secret information if it is necessary for spill response or medical treatment, provided that the recipient agrees to maintain the confidentiality of the trade-secret information.”
The proposed regulations call for chemicals used at fracking sites to be disclosed within 60 days after the well has been fractured, which falls short of the full public disclosure the EDC is advocating, Segee said.
After-the-fact reporting of the chemicals used in fracking is sensible if one considers: “What is the purpose of disclosing chemicals?” said Tupper Hull, vice president of strategic communications for the Western States Petroleum Association, a nonprofit trade association for petroleum production and marketing in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The reason to disclose the chemicals is “to determine if they have shown up in groundwater supplies,” he said. “That is not impacted by when the information is presented, whether it be 30 days, 20 days or 10 days” after hydraulic fracturing has occurred. He said that because fracking is a “well-completion process, once the well is drilled, a hydraulic fracturing program is developed for that specific geology and well characteristics. They may make that determination at the end of the drilling.”
Regarding the trade-secret provisions in the draft guidelines, Hull said: “Laws that protect trade secrets occur throughout all regulations. It is not something new to the oil and gas industry or hydraulic fracturing. It is a part of business law and has been for a century or more.” Many companies, including those that produce medicine and food, “are allowed to protect legitimate trade secrets,” he said. “It protects competitive processes and materials that enhance and encourage competition in the marketplace and benefit consumers.”
“Whatever the state decides to recommend, we ask that it be based on science and evidence, not on emotion,” Hull said. “That appears to be the direction the state took.”
Currently, there is no requirement for energy companies to disclose what wells are fracked or what chemicals are used, although some voluntarily report fracking operations on a Web site, fracfocus.org, which is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Twelve wells in the Ventura County area are listed on the site as being fracked. Reviews by government and environmental groups show there are many more.
Sandra Burkhart, senior coastal coordinator for WSPA, told county supervisors on Dec. 11 that a survey of its membership revealed 628 wells in California were fracked in 2011. Los Padres Forest Watch, a nonprofit conservation group, conducted an extensive, monthslong investigation of fracking and reported on its Web site that at least four wells in the Sespe Oil Field north of Fillmore were fracked in 2011 and at least three in 2012. It determined that 351 wells have been fracked in that oil field since the 1960s, although the exact number is not known because fracking operations are not required to be disclosed to the public.
One well, Sence 43, southeast of Ojai Santa Paula, is listed on fracfocus.org as being fracked on Dec. 5, using 62,328 gallons of water with ingredients, including glutaraldehyde, ammonium phosphate, hemicellulase enzyme concentrate, potassium carbonate, potassium hydroxide, oxyakylated amine quat, boric acid, methanol, methyl borate, 1-butoxy-2-propanol, isotridecanol, ethoxylated, paraffinic petroleum distillate, methanol, acetyl triethyl citrate.
John Krist, chief executive officer of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said none of the Farm Bureau’s members has brought concerns about fracking to the Farm Bureau. “If farmers thought there was a problem, they would not be shy about saying it,” he said.
DOGGR has “focused entirely on promoting oil production,” Segee said. It needs to “balance production with preservation of natural resources and health and public safety. Fracking has gone unregulated for so long because of the lack of public disclosure. It’s hard to be concerned about something you don’t know anything about. We’re definitely going to participate in the Ventura County process to the extent we can and work on passing a strong statewide fracking bill.”
California is the fourth-largest oil-producing state in the nation and is on the verge of a shale oil boom. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last year that the Monterey shale formation in California could hold as much as 15 billion barrels of oil. That resource “will dramatically transform the characteristics of many of our communities,” Segee said. “If indeed the rush is going to happen, we are trying to get a legal framework in place to provide adequate protection to the environment and public safety.”
“Hydraulic fracturing is a gift that California has been given,” said Hull. “Once we have worked through the regulatory process, we could be looking at a very promising renaissance in the economic future of this state. The renaissance is already occurring in much of the country. The result of the oil and gas production from hydraulic fracturing is a phenomenal success story.”
-To view 12 wells in the Ventura County area listed by a Web site managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, log on to http://www.fracfocus.org . This site lists some fracked wells that a few energy companies have voluntarily disclosed.
-The state discussion draft regulations on fracking are listed on the home page of the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/Index.aspx
-To view the supervisors’ letters to the entire Board of Supervisors and to state legislators regarding fracking, log on to the supervisors’ Dec. 11, 2012, meeting agenda and scroll to item No. 55 to open up both letters: http://gsa-docushare.countyofventura.org/dscgi/ds.py/View/Collection-1009.
-To see the video discussion of fracking, item No. 55 on the Dec. 11, 2012, Ventura County Board of Supervisors’ agenda, log on to: http://ventura.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=67&clip_id=3045.