Fracking: full disclosure not required

Frustrated local residents seek moratorium on controversial drilling method

By Shane Cohn 06/07/2012

Hydraulic fracturing may be occurring near your home.


But you wouldn’t know it.


In California, there are currently no reporting requirements for the practice known as “fracking,” a high-pressure drilling method that injects a pressurized mix of water, sand and various “trade secret” chemicals into the earth to extract natural gas.


According to the state’s Department of Conservation (DOC), the practice has been occurring since the 1940s without reporting requirements, which frustrated and bewildered many Ventura County residents at the department’s recent fracking workshop at the Ventura County Government Center.


On Wednesday, May 30, nearly 200 people attended the two-hour workshop, the second of seven workshops the department is conducting around the state, asking for the public’s ideas about fracking regulation and reporting criteria. The state’s DOC hopes to draft a plan by next spring, said Jason Marshall, its chief deputy director.


Many in the crowd, however, expressed concern about the effects from toxic chemicals possibly contaminating the ground water, as well as the possibility that the drilling method may encourage tremors. Many called for a moratorium on the controversial drilling method until environmental impact reports can be prepared.


“These contaminants will run freely into streams, rivers, oceans, fields that grow our food and our glasses of water,” said county resident Florencia Ramirez. “It is my deep hope that through this discourse, our elected officials here in Ventura County would ban fracking in this area, and my sincere hope that our governor would hear our message and ban fracking in the state of California.”


The workshop was also intended to help dispel the belief that there are no rules surrounding fracking operations, explained Marshall, adding that there has long been a regulated process for drilling through drinking water aquifers. He said there has been no evidence of environmental harm in California from the fracking process, which occurs 2,000 to 10,000 feet below the surface.


In a statement that later drew critical response from the crowd, Marshall said that some of the chemicals used during the fracking process are the same as those commonly found in anti-bacterial soap.


According to fracfocus.org, a voluntary disclosure site, companies have reported using known carcinogens, such as naphthalene and benzene, in their fracking cocktails.


For Rose Braz, campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity, the DOC’s presentation was mostly smoke and mirrors.


“There is no evidence here (of environmental harm) in California because, how can there be evidence if we don’t know where it’s happening?” said Braz. “There is evidence for groundwater contamination around the country.”


Following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assertion last year that fracking may lead to groundwater contamination, New York and New Jersey put moratoriums in place while they study the practice, and Vermont recently became the first state to ban fracking.


Western States Petroleum Association has estimated that its companies fracked 628 oil wells in California in 2011.

Only one company, Occidental Oil and Gas, has disclosed information on fracfocus.org about two wells where fracking has occurred in Ventura County.


Just hours before the workshop began, a bill from state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura, requiring companies to notify nearby property owners before using hydraulic fracturing on or near their land, was defeated in the state Senate by a vote of 17 to 18.


“Let’s be transparent about the process,” said Pavley. “There is no reporting, and no state agencies that know about the wells and whether or not there is contamination of water. So if there is no problem, like some people claim, a transparent process and reporting seems to me like it would allay public fears.”


Pavley clarified that she is not advocating a ban on fracking, but that some disclosure about where fracking is occurring is necessary to help contain the public’s growing fear of the practice. If the state continues to delay transparency, Pavley said, then it is up to individual counties to address the issue. Santa Barbara County established a process that requires companies to apply for a special permit from the County Planning Commission.


“Counties are the ones that have large unincorporated areas where fracking would occur,” said Pavley. “So a county might want to consider it (adopting regulations) if it makes sense.” 

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