Keeping Track of Hydraulic Fracturing in California

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Environmental regulations in California are considered conservative by most state standards. To name a few practices, the state has developed an air quality review board that conducts independent toxicological assessments on a level competitive with the U.S. EPA, and the state instituted the U.S.’s first green house gas cap and trade program. But most recently the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been criticized in the media for its lack of monitoring of hydraulic fracturing activity. DOGGR has been responsive to criticism and preemptive of legislative action and has begun a full review of all well-sites in California to identify which wells have been hydraulically fractured and plan to monitor future hydraulic fracturing. Additionally they have maintained historical records of all wells drilled, plugged, and abandoned in the state in web-accessible databases, which include data for oil and gas, geothermal, and injection wells, as well as other types of support wells such as pressure maintenance, steam flood etc.. The data is also viewable in map format on the DOGGR’s online mapping system (DOMS).

To understand what is missing from the DOGGR dataset, it was compared to the dataset extracted from FracFocus.org by SkyTruth. The map “Hydraulic Fracturing in California” compares these two datasets, which can be viewed individually or together as one dataset with duplicates removed. It is interesting to note the SkyTruth dataset categorizes 237 wells as hydraulically fractured that DOGGR does not, and identifies three wells (API #’s 11112215, 23727206, and 10120788) not identified in the DOGGR database. For the some of these 237 wells, DOGGR identifies them as new, which means they were recently drilled and hydraulically fractured and DOGGR will be updating their database. Many are identified as active oil and gas wells., while the rest are identified as well types other than oil and gas. Also the SkyTruth dataset from FracFocus data contains additional information about each well-site, which DOGGR does not provide. This includes volumes of water used for hydraulic fracturing and the fracture date, both of which are vital pieces of monitoring information.

The California State Legislature is currently reviewing California Senate Bill 4 (CA SB 4) written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), which would put in place a regulatory structure for permitting and monitoring hydraulic fracturing and other activity.  A caveat for acidification is also included that would require companies to obtain a specific permit from the state before acidizing a well.  The bill has received criticism from both industry and environmentalists.  While it does not call for a moratorium or regulate what chemicals are used, it is the first legislation that requires a full disclosure of all hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, including those considered proprietary.  This is the last of at least seven bills on the issue, the majority of which have been turned down by lawmakers. The most conservative bills (Assemblywoman Mitchell; D-Culver City) proposed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in the state. Earlier this year lawmakers approved a bill (Sen. Pavley; D-Agoura Hills) that would direct the state to complete and independent scientific risk assessment of hydraulic fracturing. The bill directs permitters to deny permits if the study is not finished by January 1, 2015, and also requires public notice before drilling as well as disclosure of chemicals (besides those considered proprietary). In May, a bill (Sen. Wold; D-Davis) was passed requiring drillers to file a $100,000 indemnity bond for each well, with an optional blanket indemnity bond of $5 million for operators with over 20 wells. Another bill (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) that would require monitoring of both transportation and disposal of wastewater was tabled until next year.

Although hydraulic fracturing has been conducted in California for over a decade, it was not monitored or regulated, and the majority of Californians were not aware of it. Industry groups have portrayed the lack of attention as a testament to its environmental neutrality, but Californians living smack dab in the middle of the drilling tend to tell a different story. The issue is now receiving attention because hydraulic fracturing is such a hotbed topic of contention, along with the potential future of the billions of barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale. The unconventional extraction technology necessary to recover the oil from these deep shale formations is state of the art, which means it is not tried and true. The methods include a combination of high tech approaches, such as horizontal drilling, high volume hydraulic fracturing, and acidification to name a few. Realize: if this technology existed for the last 60 years, the Monterey Shale would already have been developed long ago, along with the rest of the U.S. deep shale formations.

FracTracker Alliance’s *NEW* California Shale Viewer

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The FracTracker Alliance has just recently opened a new office based out of Berkeley, California. As a first step in addressing the unique issues of oil and gas extraction in the Golden State, FracTracker has queried the data that is published by the state’s regulatory agencies, and has translated those datasets into various maps that highlight specific issues. As a first step in this process, FracTracker transcribed the well-site data that is publicly available from the California Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

This first phase of analysis is presented in FracMapper on the California page, here. FracTracker has translated the entire DOGGR database into a map layer that can be viewed on the California Shale Viewer map, here. The California Shale Viewer will be continuously updated to map the expanding oil and gas development as it occurs. Featured map layers on the California Shale Viewer focus on hydraulic fracturing in the state of California. The hydraulic fracturing well-site data comes from two sources. First, the layer “CA Hydraulically Fractured Wells Identified by DOGGR” portrays the maps identified by regulatory agency as having been hydraulically fractured. The DOGGR is aware that their dataset is not complete in terms of identifying all wells that have been hydraulically fractured. The second source of data is from our friends at SkyTruth, and provided in the layer “CA Hydraulically Fractured Wells Identified by SkyTruth”. Using a crowd-source platform, SkyTruth has generated a dataset based on the information reported to FracFocus.org. FracFocus.org refuses to provide aggregated datasets of their well-site data. These hydraulically fractured well-sites can be viewed as a individual datasets in the California Shale Viewer, or as a combined layer in the map “California Hydraulically Fractured and Conventional Oil and Gas Wells” map, where you are also able to view the dataset of wells FracFocus identifies as hydraulically fractured, but DOGGR does not.

More information concerning the many different types of wells drilled in California and the status of these wells (whether they are planned, active, idle or plugged) can be found in the “Well Type” map and “Well Status” map, also available on the FracTracker California page.

Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking forum

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The “Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking” forum hosted by The Union of Concerned Scientists focused on the full spectrum of the broad range of issues accompanying unconventional resource extraction and hydraulic fracturing.  The meeting included a full day of roundtable discussions focused on three topics, with participants handpicked and assigned to one of three groups.  Roundtable discussions with invited participants convened July 24th, with a public forum held the following day.  Participants included leading thinkers and experts from academia, industry, nonprofit organizations, and government.  The working groups focused on one of three topics:

  1. The current state of science and technical knowledge
  2. Public policy and the regulatory framework for managing development
  3. Public Access to data and resources.

The FracTracker Alliance participated in the public access discussions.  The chair(s) of each of the three committees presented their findings during the public forum on July 25th, followed by “dynamic public discussion.”

The public forum began with opening remarks from Kathleen Rest, Executive Director of UCS, and Edward A. Parson, Professor of law and Co-Director of the Emmet Center on Climate Change and the Environment at the UCLA Law School, and a warm greeting from U.S. Congressman Henry A Waxman, via telecast as Congress is currently in session. Opening remarks by Adrienne Alvord (UCS) introduced the three committees and their respective charges. A short video, filmed and produced by UCS, presenting the need for public awareness on the issue of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional resource development was then exhibited.  The video can be found on the UCS website.

The committee discussing the current state of science and knowledge gaps was chaired by Kevin Hurst, former Assistant Director of energy R&D for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  In his presentation Kevin acknowledged the various risks of media contamination, including groundwater, soil, surface water, and air, that have occurred during both conventional and unconventional oil and gas extraction, but felt that his committee had reached an overall consensus within his group that when best practices are employed responsibly, these risks can be managed effectively.  Specifically, the risks to groundwater and green-house gas emissions are relatively similar to the risks associated with conventional resource development (vertically drilled oil and natural gas wells that are not “frac’ed”).  The risk management issues result from the scale of development.  Proper management will necessarily require comprehensive monitoring plans, including all media as well as wildlife and public health, necessarily from industry but also from the public sector and citizens.  Monitoring will need to be consistent, transparent, and widespread.  For each particular failure that has been realized, there will need to be a collaboration between industry and regulatory bodies (state and federal) to drive down risk.  For data collection on a comprehensive scale there will also need to be collaboration between public and private institutions for a coalition that supports public engagement.

Kate Konschnik, Policy Director of the Environmental Law and Policy program at the Harvard Law School and former chief environmental counsel to U.S. senator Sheldon Whitehouse, presented on behalf of the policy working group.  Kate began by addressing what is working and what is not working in terms of the goals of the many interest groups focused on hydraulic fracturing issues.  Among other interests they include moratoriums and a complete ban.  In the case of local rural interests groundwater protection has been a main focus, whereas in urban communities it is typically a concern for air quality.  On a global scale green-house gas emissions are the focus.  On all levels these are progressive issues due to the difference of scale as compared to previous oil and gas activity in most parts of the United States.  To manage this scale of development there are both regulatory and non-regulatory tools.  Regulatory tools include roles for the federal, state, tribal, and local governments such as the role the EPA has in supporting green completions of well-heads, although they could be required as addressed in the clean air act.  Non-regulatory bodies possess other tools such as shareholder interests and actions and third party certifications such as LEED certifications.  In regards to regulatory action, there seems to be a lack of will to apply existing rules on the books, whereas there is also the capacity for new rules that need to be created in such a way that authority is shared without duplicating efforts and with clear response plans.  Having government regulatory agencies lead the charge in data collection is important to inspire innovation to reduce risks, develop performance standards from the ground level and will address the trust issue for accountability and continued improvement of technologies.  Information that needs to be collected includes baseline data and ongoing monitoring in a consistent format across multiple states, as well as chemical disclosures.

The third working group, focused on issues of public access to information, was chaired by Tom Wilbur, author of Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale and Shale Gas Review blog.  Tom’s presentation centered on the question, “What can be done to help citizens seek, find, and digest information, while recognizing misinformation, so as to inform decision-making?”  Answers should improve access to information that will in turn inform decision-making.  The main findings were framed in terms of the best outcome for most people, such that public health and environmental health issues trump issues of trade secrets and non-disclosures.  The first finding was that the sources of information need to be trusted, and community generated information is the most trusted.  This includes the involvement of regulatory agencies, such as closing the loopholes in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (hazardous wastes) and the Clean Water Act.  Disclosure of all chemicals is therefore also necessary.  The full process of data dissemination must also be considered, from translation of data to information, to synthesis of results and conclusions, and then explanations of the implications.  Validation of all information by trusted sources is critical.

Additional presenters who had not participated in the roundtable discussions provided insight into the various themes, to tie the discussions together.  Amy Jaffy Myers, Executive Director for energy and sustainability at the University of California-Davis, discussed global energy security economic, and geopolitics of frac’ing.  Amy explained why the issue of energy independence is so important to the future of the United States.  Everyone wants the freedom of mobility to drive cars on liquid fuel and warmth to heat their homes.  In turn, the public’s demand for responsible policies should be responded with a commitment from the private sector.    Felicia Marcus, Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board provided the context for why the issue is so important in the State of California, and summarized the current set of draft rules and regulations that are currently being considered by the state legislature.  They include provisions for monitoring, transparency, and bonding.  Jose Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance, gave a moving talk about the environmental justice issues that have accompanied oil and natural gas development in California communities.  Todd Platts, former U.S. Representative, gave a lecture on the need for information for community-empowerment as well as the need for transparency in a functioning democracy, and Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy and The Union of Concerned Scientist provided closing remarks, which summed up the entire conference with the words “Informed decisions need to be made on the merits.”