California Fracking Oversight Agencies Lack Inspectors, Knowledge, Says EPA

Posted on 31 May 2013

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Dan AielloBy Dan Aiello

As more than 100 environmental groups launched a massive anti-fracking campaign yesterday in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, California Progress Report's review of the agencies charged with oil industry oversight and protecting the state's groundwater supplies has found troubling signs that California is woefully unprepared to manage a proliferation of fracking wells anticipated to tap into the newly discovered Monterey Shale Deposit.

The deposit, stretching along the Golden State's ecologically fragile coastline from Los Angeles to San Francisco and through some of the most densely-populated regions, is said to contain up to 15.4 billion barrels of oil some 11,000 feet deep, and oil companies are keen to exploit the huge deposit in the only state that lacks any kind of oil severance tax.

Pumpjacks on Lost Hills Oil Field in California on Route 46 at sunset. Photo credit: Arne HückelheimEnvironmentalists believe a new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil drilling method developed by Halliburton in 2007 and capable of horizontal drilling up to 3,000 feet horizontally and a mile vertically using "proprietary" secret chemicals poses great risk to the state's other precious resource, water.

According to these groups, California agencies charged with protecting Californians and the state's natural resources from the dangers of oil production have, instead, been biased toward the oil companies that have been regulated but largely unmonitored with dire consequences in the past.

The State's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), has been more lapdog than bulldog, say environmentalists.

Among the concerns of environmentalists is the lack of on-the-ground field inspectors for both DOGGR and California's Water Quality Boards.

"The lack of inspectors monitoring an industry known for oil and gas spills, leaks and water contamination is abysmal and is exactly why we need to stop fracking in California," Kristen Lynch, Pacific Regional Director of Food and Water Watch, told California Progress Report.

In an independent review requested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of oil industry practices in California, deficiencies in the qualifications, knowledge and number of inspectors appear to validate environmentalists' claims that the state is ill-equipped to protect California's groundwater supply from an oil industry with a history of ignoring environmental regulations.

The report, conducted by the Horsley Witten Group, cited several areas where CDOGGR fell short in its inspection and data collection on the state's thousands of conventional, fracking (underground injection), underground stimulation, idle and disposal oil wells.

The report also noted an inadequate number of DOGGR inspectors and the practices, training and knowledge of these inspectors were cited, as well, noting the types of tests chosen and conducted by these inspectors were not the most detailed or investigative.

DOGGR inspectors in at least some of the state's nine districts routinely avoided use of what were referred to as "stronger" tests.

Asked about the report's criticism of DOGGR and lack of progress toward addressing the inadequacies, California's Department of Conservation spokesman, Don Drysdale, told CPR, "The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources currently has about 60 positions that perform field inspections. This represents an increase of a dozen inspectors from the time of the U.S. EPA audit of the state's underground injection program. The Division sent its response to the U.S. EPA in December and is in the process of developing a rule-making package to address the concerns raised. There is no timeline available for the completion of the rule-making process.

"As you may be aware," Drysdale continued, "DOGGR's response letter to U.S. EPA and action plan are available on the website."

Drysdale deferred further questions to Clay Rodgers, Assistant Executive Officer of the Central Valley Water Board, the state's largest water district encompassing 40 percent of the state from Goose Lake on the Oregon Border to Frasier Park at the top of the Grapevine and from the crest of the coastal range to the crest of the Sierras.

The Central Valley Water Board District also includes Shafter, California, home of the Vintage oil fracking well environmental disaster and Bakersfield, California, home of the conventional drilling contamination by Aera oil of the Starrh family farm.

When asked how many acres were under cultivation in his district, Rodgers knew immediately, telling CPR "seven million." But when asked how many oil wells existed in his district Rodgers said he didn't know. Asked how many of those wells were being fracked Rodgers, a Hydro Geologist, also did not know.

According to Rodgers, of the 223 Central Valley Water Board employees, only two on-the-ground inspectors are employed to monitor and obtain data on the thousands of oil wells, including Kern County's, the state's largest oil producing region. The region also is home to an estimated 680 wells already being fracked in the Central Valley.

Rodgers said there are no plans to increase the number of inspectors. "We work with the resources we're given," he told CPR.

"Fracking should not be occurring in California with such inadequate oversight," Kassie Siegel, Director of the Climate Law Institute with the Center for Biological Diversity. "State oil and gas regulators (DOGGR) are ignoring existing regulations that clearly do apply to fracking, and state agencies have insufficient resources and personnel to ensure enforcement of the rules that are being implemented."

Several bills are currently active in the legislature that seek to add resources to both the DOGGR and water quality boards budgets, most notably SB 241, Senator Noreen Evans bill calling for an oil severance tax that would have the oil industry help pay for the monitoring of their wells so that cases like that of Fred Starrh and the Vintage oil field fracking environmental disasters don't happen again.

Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a moderate whose legislation last year to regulate fracking was crushed by the oil industry's $8.5 million-strong lobby, now may seem like a missed opportunity to oil companies.

Pavley does not seek a fracking moratorium and believes the state agencies can monitor the wells. "DOGGR has acknowledged there are issues with its inspection procedures and other aspects of its Underground Injection Control program, and Sen. Pavley is hopeful the agency will continue to work to improve the program," Will Jason, Senator Pavley's communications director, told CPR.

Of the three fracking moratorium bills, two are said to still be in play: AB 1323 (Mitchell) and AB 649 (Nazarian).

Dan Aiello reports for the Bay Area Reporter and California Progress Report. His coverage of California water issues and fracking were recently cited in a San Diego Union Tribune editorial, "A Faustian Bargain."

DOGGR won't bite the hand that feeds it and when it comes to enforcing the states environmental regulations this DOGGR won't hunt.

We have been fracking in the US and California for 50 years. We just did not call it that. The big difference, today, is that we have horizontal drilling. To give you an idea of what that means look at the following chart:

Texas has doubled oil production in the last three years. That chart is out of date, by the way. Oil production is now up to 2.4 MM bbl/day. To give you an idea what that means, an extra 1.2 million bbl/day is about $110 million/day in the Texas economy. Or, roughly, $40 billion/year.

what would that mean for California? An extra $6 billion/year in tax revenue without a tax increase. About a million jobs which would greatly decrease unemployment in Texas. And, these are good jobs. Heck, truck drivers make $100,000 per year in the Permain Basin (near Odessa, TX).

Obama should get on his knees and kiss Texas soil. Without Texas there would NO economic recovery at all, not even this weak one we have. he should be saying, "thank god for Texas." And, it is not over! Most analysts are saying Texas will be at 3.5 MM bbls/day in three years.

And, California just debates whether to be part of this bonanza. Sad. John kemp of reuters points out texas farmers have the same concerns... Frackers are being warned, "Dont mess with Texas water"

Texas lacks the scenic environmental beauty California possesses. There is no Texas Yosemite, no lone star Pacific coastline. No big horn whale watchng. So texans dont have the burden of being good stewards of Gods precious mountain temples or fragile coastal estuaries.

But there is agriculture and the wests scarcity of water In Texas and Texas farmers say dont frack..

Halliburton developed a new fracking method in 2007. This is not your fathers fracking and to suggest there's a history of safety with it is disengenous and lacks credibility.

Halliburton preemptively.sought deregulation of fracking for good reason. This fracking capable of going a mile deep is incredibly dangerous and they knew it wouldn't be accepted without deregulating it.

And about those job projections; Forbes cites oil production as the most employee efficient profit per employee ratio recession proof industry of the us economy. The number of employees of oil companies is so low it actually was an embarrassment until the industry lobbyists suggested they include the number of clerks at any market that sells gas. So the night clerk at the ampm is incluxed in the oil industry figures. One million employees? Not likely.

I hate to interrupt your fact interruption with non-fictional facts, but I couldn't let you go unchallenged.

So, that Texas has a 6% unemployment rate and a 4.8% GDP growth is a mere co-incidence and has nothing to do with the oil and gas industry? That the unemployment in areas, like the Permian basin which does a lot of fracking is about 3% is also a mere co-incidence?

And, by the way, how much employment in west Texas (which is, basically, a desert) do you think those "farmers" actually provide? Take away their government subsidies and those farms would not exist.