On December 18, 2012, California’s Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released its long-awaited draft of hydraulic fracturing regulations (Fracking Regulations). The regulations, for the most part, are more comprehensive than those adopted by other states, which have thus far primarily focused on the disclosure of the chemicals in fracturing fluids. California’s Fracking Regulations, if adopted, will require operators to undertake rigorous testing and evaluation before, during and after hydraulic fracturing operations to ensure wells and subsurface formations remain competent and that drinking water is not contaminated.
All oil and gas wells in California have historically been regulated by well construction statutes. The fundamental purpose of these statutes is to ensure that oil and gas being produced from subsurface “pay zones” do not escape the wellbore and migrate into other subsurface zones, in particular zones that might contain fresh water. The Fracking Regulations take the well construction statutes a step further, and will require well operators to provide detailed information on their hydraulic fracturing operations to the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Boards. In areas where “protected waters,” i.e., any waters subject to State Water Resources Control Board Resolution No. 88-63, are present, well operators will be required to analyze the potential of faults, natural fracture zones, and other wells in the area to act as conduits and publicly disclose a complete list of chemicals used in the fracturing fluids and their concentrations. Consistent with regulations adopted by several other states, well operators are required to make the information available to the public, subject to trade secret protections, by posting this information on FracFocus.org.
The existing requirement to obtain a Notice of Intent to Drill/Rework (NOI) permit prior to implementing well stimulation activity will, under the Fracking Regulations, now require the well operator to report its intent to hydraulically fracture a well. This is not a separate permitting activity; instead, it is an expansion of the information required when applying for a NOI.
As with any statute or regulation, “the devil is in the details.”