California Fracking Regulations


DOGGR hearing. DOGGR oversees all California Fracking regulations and is currently implementing SB 4

DOGGR holds a workshop on hydraulic fracturing and California fracking regulations in June 2012. (Source: LA Streets Blog)


Fracking Regulations

On September 20, 2013, Governor Brown signed SB 4, a bill sponsored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that attempts to establish a regulatory structure for unconventional well stimulation techniques, including fracking and acidization. The law provides mechanisms for groundwater and air quality monitoring, public disclosure of all chemicals used, and neighbor notification before well stimulation takes place. The SB4 law doesn’t go much farther than public disclosure and neighborhood notification of dangerous drilling operations. For those living close to unconventional oil and gas operations and experiencing negative health affects, it is still unclear if the law will provide adequate protections. Critics have consistently argued that, in effect, the law does more to sanction fracking and other advanced well stimulation techniques than to put a stop to the practices scientifically proven to endanger both environmental and human health.

While interim fracking regulations went into effect in California on January 1, 2014, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) consulted with other state agencies in developing the law and presented the full regulation on January 1st, 2015. The regulations will go into effect, in cooperation with the State Water Board, on July 1, 2015.

Scientific Study

In addition to establishing regulations for unconventional oil and gas extraction in California, SB 4 mandated that the State complete an independent scientific study to evaluate the potential risks of fracking and other forms of unconventional well stimulation techniques. Inexplicably, the study meant to inform the regulation is going to be completed six months after the regulations are finalized. Crucial information on potential impacts including groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat were excluded from the development of the SB4 regulation.

Environmental Impact Report

Well stimulation projects are subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As such, SB 4 requires that the State complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to evaluate the impacts of all existing and potential future oil and gas well stimulation in California by July 2015 (note: this is separate from the independent scientific study). This report, like the scientific study, will be completed too late to affect the development of the SB4 regulation.

Regulatory Responsibilities

DOGGR: The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources

California fracking regulations are primarily implemented by the California Department of Conservation through DOGGR, which is funded through oil and gas revenues. Critics contend that DOGGR has fallen prey to industry capture, which occurs when a regulatory agency begins to serve the interests of industry instead of the public. DOGGR is responsible for monitoring approximately 88,500 currently active wells in the state.  Functionally, DOGGR supervises the drilling, operation, maintenance, plugging and abandonment of onshore and offshore oil, gas, and geothermal wells.  Their programs include: well permitting and testing; safety inspections; oversight of production and injection projects; environmental lease inspections; idle-well testing; inspecting oilfield tanks, pipelines, and sumps; hazardous and orphan well plugging and abandonment contracts; and subsidence monitoring.

In addition to concerns about DOGGR’s record on inspections and the agency’s close relationship with industry, many have raised questions about the agency’s capability to effectively enforce California fracking regulations.1

Additional State and Local Governmental Agencies

In addition to DOGGR, there are a number of state agencies with jurisdiction over aspects of well stimulation in California. These agencies include the California Air Resources Board, the local air districts, the California Water Resources Control Board, the regional water boards, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the California Department of Public Health, the California Coastal Commission and the California Department on Resources, Recycling and Recovery. Due to the large number of agencies with potentially overlapping authority, there has been some confusion over the various roles and responsibilities of each agency in.  In an effort to address this problem, SB 4 instructed DOGGR to consult with other state agencies by January 1, 2015 to clearly delineate responsibilities for monitoring and reporting in places where well stimulation may occur. How successful this will be remains to be seen.

There are also several federal agencies with authority to implement California fracking regulations. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the federal agency that oversees and maintains jurisdiction over all federal public land in California.  Any fracking that occurs on federally owned land would fall under the jurisdiction of the BLM, although DOGGR and the BLM have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2012. The MoU describes how the two will cooperate where they share authority, and the MoU includes hydraulic fracturing.

California regulations for fracking and other advanced drilling methods off the coast are handled by different agencies, depending upon whether the well is in state waters or federal waters.  In state waters, oversight authority and fracking regulations are essentially the same as on land.  In federal waters, the California Coastal Commission has the authority to determine if the activities are consistent with the Coastal Management Act, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) are the responsible federal agencies. As is the case on land, the difficulty in determining which agency is responsible for regulation makes effective oversight difficult.


Who Regulates Fracking?

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