Environmental Protection

California to Propose New Fracking Rules and Review Agency Insight of Injection Wells

California oil and gas regulators are planning to propose new regulations for hydraulic fracturing activities and re-examine existing rules for underground injection wells.

The Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released a “road map” May 3 outlining its plan to revisit the state's oversight of underground injection wells to better protect drinking water supplies and workers.

As part of the process, the division said it would look at the use of carbon dioxide as an enhanced oil recovery tool, the storing of carbon dioxide in injection wells and the reinjection of waste gas.

“It's a to-do list of Division priorities for the near-term, some of which involve hydraulic fracturing regulations,'' DOGGR spokesman Don Drysdale told BNA in a May 7 email.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water, chemicals, and other substances into shale formations at high pressure to enhance natural gas extraction. Injection wells are used for deep-underground storage of wastewater, including “flowback” water from fracking.

Gathering Input for New Regulations.

DOGGR said it will hold a series of public workshops to gather input for new fracking regulations, which it plans to propose by the end of the summer. Also, DOGGR said it will commission an independent study of the impact of fracking in California.

Existing regulations protect well casings, hydrocarbon-bearing geologic formation, and groundwater, DOGGR said. Through the workshops, the agency said it will try to identify steps needed to ensure well integrity, proper testing procedures, ways to protect resources and suitable reporting requirements.

Pending state legislation would require advance notice of fracking activities to neighbors and disclosure of the chemicals used.

DOGGR said it also will review existing rules to see if changes are needed to reflect updates in engineering and production practices.

The agency said it will examine injection projects using cyclic steam to loosen heavy crude resources in diatomite formations, or shallow rock formations. At some oil production sites, the process has resulted in spills, seeps, and eruptions of hot fluids and hydrogen sulfides.

Last year, a Chevron worker died in a sinkhole at an oil field in Kern County where the steam injection process is being used.

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