State senator slams California for lack of oil drilling oversight

Reuters News

7/24/2013 7:56:58 PM - Reuters News

By Rory Carroll

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California oil and gas regulators have failed to monitor practices used to access shale oil, including the injection of dangerous chemicals underground, a state senator said Thursday, urging passage of her proposed oversight legislation.

Fran Pavley, chair of the Senate committee on Natural Resources and Water, said she was discouraged by the responses she received from the state's oil and gas well regulator to her inquiry about the use of corrosive acid to dissolve rock and unlock oil in California's massive Monterey Shale deposit, an issue first raised by Reuters in May.

Industry officials have said that "acid jobs" could play as important a role in extracting oil as the better-known technique of hydraulic fracking.

"It is deeply concerning that dangerous acids and Proposition 65 chemicals are being pumped underground without any permits or oversight," said Pavley, referring to a decades-old law designed to protect drinking water sources from substances that cause cancer.

In his response to Pavley's questions, Mark Nechodom, director of the state's Department of Conservation, said hydrochloric, hydrofluoric, acetic, formic acid are among the types of chemicals typically used in acid jobs, but could not say how often or in what quantities they are used in California.

"Since the Division does not have well stimulation data captured in a database, the range of specific well stimulation techniques that are being used in California is not readily available at this time," Nechodom said in his response to Pavley.

"Nor do we have the resources to dedicate to review thousands of scanned documents," he said.

Pavley rejected that explanation, saying the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has over the past three years voluntarily declined additional staffing resources that could have helped beefed up oversight.

"Unfortunately, regulators have not deemed these activities worthy of monitoring. Director Nechodom's letter reaffirms the need for legislation to force DOGGR to fulfill its legal responsibilities—protection of life, health, property and natural resources," Pavley said.

She said the dearth of information on oil extraction techniques underscores the need for the passage of SB 4, a bill she authored that would require well operators to obtain permits before they frack or acidize a well.

The permits would require companies to provide estimates of the amount of water and the composition of the well stimulation fluids they planned to use.

The bill, which was approved by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee earlier this month, will be heard by an Assembly appropriations committee in August.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll, additional reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Richard Chang)