Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has come under scrutiny for its potential impacts on water, including the risks to water quality and the amount of water used in the practice. California’s new regulations on petroleum well stimulation treatments are set to take effect on July 1, 2015, and include multiple measures to safeguard against risks to water quality from fracking. These new requirements, coupled with the results of an independent study issued pursuant to Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which found that fracking in the Golden State utilizes significantly less water than in other areas of the country, confirm that curtailing hydraulic fracturing will not be a path to resolving the state’s water woes.
Pursuant to SB 4, the California Council on Science and Technology, with the assistance of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was commissioned to prepare a three-volume independent study of well stimulation technologies in California. Volume I, titled “Well Stimulation Technologies and Their Past, Present, and Potential Future Use in California,” was issued in January 2015. This first volume assessed well stimulation technologies deployed in oil and gas production in California and where the technologies might enable production in the future. Volumes II and III of the independent study are anticipated to be released on July 1, 2015. Volume II will address the ways in which well stimulation affects water and other environmental concerns, explore how the technology could pose human health hazards, and identify data gaps and alternative practices. Volume III will provide case studies to assess environmental issues and qualitative risks for geographic regions of the state.
Volume I of the independent study found that approximately 20 percent of petroleum production in California comes from wells that have been hydraulically fractured, with almost all hydraulic fracturing occurring in the San Joaquin Basin. Dry gas wells were found to be rarely stimulated in the state, with none reported since 2011. The independent study confirmed that fracking has been employed in the state for more than 60 years, since 1953.
Importantly, the independent study concluded that hydraulic fracturing activities in California are different from other areas of the country, and, as such, experiences with hydraulic fracturing in other states do not necessarily apply to hydraulic fracturing in California. It found significant differences existed with the hydraulic fracturing technology being employed in the state versus elsewhere. Notably, the independent study found that hydraulic fracturing in California occurred over shorter treatment intervals and in shallower vertical wells without an extensive horizontal component commonly employed in other regions. Consequently, the independent study found that the practices and impacts of hydraulic fracturing in other states do not directly apply to current hydraulic fracturing in California.