The legislator behind the last major hydraulic fracturing bill left standing in Sacramento says she’s preparing to broaden the measure.

An oil rig in Kern County, California where most fracking has historically taken place. (Photo: Craig Miller/KQED)
An oil rig in Kern County, California where most fracking has historically taken place. (Photo: Craig Miller/KQED)

Senator Fran Pavley’s bill, SB 4, passed the Senate last month on a 28-11 vote. It’s now in front of the Assembly. The legislation would set standards for how California regulates oil drilling and what sort of information drillers would be required to make public. The Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is working on its own regulations governing fracking, but Pavley has criticized the department for moving too slowly.

Pavley says she’s now preparing to rewrite the measure so that it covers other aspects of shale drilling – not just the fracking process that makes up just one stage of the oil extraction process.  “We’ll amend it to broaden the well-stimulation processes,” she said, “with the bottom line being protecting the public health and safety, and not guessing which technology [to cover.] That’s perhaps not the point – it’s more so to have the transparency and disclosure in all our regulatory agencies.”

Another change removes language that would have imposed a moratorium on the permitting of fracking if a safety study wasn’t completed by 2015.

Pavley backed away from the moratorium language during last month’s Senate debate on the measure. Her latest comments came Tuesday afternoon, during a legislative hearing focused on the technical aspects of drilling. Experts walked lawmakers through the role acid can play in the shale drilling process.

Environmental groups have raised concerns that California’s proposed fracking regulations wouldn’t cover acid-based oil extraction. As Reuters recently reported:

It is an old well completion method that involves pumping chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid into wells to melt rocks and other impediments to oil flow, and companies are not required to report when they do it.

“These are super-hazardous, poisonous chemicals and we have no idea what they are doing out there with it – how deep it is going, the volumes – nothing,” said Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group. “Why shouldn’t our state agency be regulating it as we hope they’ll be regulating hydraulic fracturing?”

Occidental Petroleum Corp, which is leading the way on Monterey development, said in 2011 it was mainly using acid jobs to get at the shale, and Occidental said this month that only a sixth of its California wells were fracked.

Venoco, a company well known for running California offshore operations near Santa Barbara and a driller of many onshore wells, estimated a few years ago that more than eight out of 10 Monterey wells could be completed with acid jobs alone.

Drillers typically use acid to clean well pipes, but it can also be used to break up shale rock. “Acid fracturing is a process of which the intended result is to create fractures,” explained Paul Deiro of the Western States Petroleum Association. “Is that the answer to success in the Monterey Shale? I think the answer to that is still on the table. We don’t know.”

Although the Monterey formation may be one of the largest remaining oil plays in the United States, the shale is fractured and uneven, due to California’s seismic activity. That makes it much more difficult for energy companies to extract oil through standard fracking operations.

“We use acid because it’s effective,” Deiro continued. “The same reason you use acid for other reasons. It’s effective. We handle it safely.” But acid spills aren’t unheard of: last summer, for example, more than 4,000 gallons of acid spilled at a Pennsylvania gas drilling site.

  • How about adding rules requiring the oil companies to report just how much water each well will consume before they get their permits?

  • bigjay

    Most of the waste water, plus fracking chemicals and or acids , is
    pumped back down into old wells for disposal. What could go wrong with


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

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