Fracking in California

Overview of Fracking in CA

As fracking rapidly expands in California the topic has become a controversial point of debate. Over the past few years, the issue has drawn increased scrutiny from policymakers, elected officials, and the public. Unfortunately, given the wide range of topics impacted by fracking and the rapidly-changing nature of the industry, it can be difficult to find reliable and up-to-date information about the process. The mission of CAFrackFacts is to aggregate all of the information about fracking and other forms of enhanced oil recovery in one accessible place so that Californians are equipped with the facts they need to make an informed decision about our state’s future.

A fracking operation off the coast of Long Beach, part of the overview of fracking

A fracking operation off the coast of Long Beach. (Source: AP/Chris Carlson)

Fracking Information

The following resources can be found on CAFrackFacts.org:

Fracking and Enhanced Oil Development

High-volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rocks and release the oil and gas trapped within them. It is not, however, the only technique being used in California to release previously inaccessible oil, or even the most common. Fracking is just one of many kinds of well stimulation methods that can increase the permeability of a shale formation. Other techniques use different injection fluids such as petroleum, steam, or hydrofluoric acid to break down the rock and access oil. For the sake of brevity, CAFrackFacts occasionally uses “fracking” as a catch-all term for all forms of expanded well stimulation. This is because, while technologies are constantly changing, the impacts they have on health, safety, and the environment are often the same. To learn more about the range of well stimulation techniques being used in California, visit our New Technologies page.

Is California Fracking for Oil or Natural Gas?

Although fracking is often credited for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the supply of cleaner-burning natural gas, in California, oil companies are fracking almost entirely for heavy crude oil. In fact, over a third of the oil being extracted in California is more carbon intensive than the Canadian tar sands. Read more about the impact of this heavy crude oil on climate.

Fracking Regulations in California

Until 2014, fracking remained largely unregulated. Existing state regulations on traditional oil and gas development did not consider the additional challenges posed by the high volumes of water and chemicals used in fracking. Regulations are currently being developed, but will not go into effect until 2015 and will not include the results of an Environmental Impact Report that is currently being conducted. An additional challenge of regulating well stimulation is that industry is continually developing new techniques. For example, while SB 4 regulates fracking, it exempts many instances of acidization, and does not include emerging techniques that remain unfamiliar to regulators, regardless of potentially similar impacts on health, safety and the environment. Read more about federal, state and local regulations on fracking.

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