* Water a top concern in dry state
* Baseline knowledge of water supplies incomplete
* Oil companies will be required to say where fracking water
By Braden Reddall and Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 15 California regulators said
on Friday an enhanced monitoring regime for oil and gas
production that is part of the state's new fracking regulations
would shore up groundwater protection, a top concern in the
The law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September,
introduces stringent regulations of hydraulic fracturing as well
as of acid injection in anticipation of greater industry efforts
to develop the state's vast Monterey shale.
The law will require testing of groundwater around fracking
sites starting on Jan. 1, 2014. It also allows property owners
in the vicinity of a fracking site to request to have their
drinking water independently tested at the well operator's
Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has revitalized U.S.
oil and gas production in recent years but also prompted charges
that it damages the environment, causes minor earthquakes and
contaminates drinking water.
Fracking involves injecting water, chemicals and sand down a
well at high pressure to crack the rock and prop the cracks
open, releasing oil and gas. Among the chief concerns of
environmentalists is that the process contaminates freshwater.
California's Department of Conservation published on Friday
proposed regulatory language to implement the new law. One of
the measure's key provisions is mandatory monitoring of
groundwater in oilfields, said Jason Marshall, the department's
chief deputy director.
Fracking is a particular concern in California, an arid
state where a growing population and powerful agricultural
industry make the politics surrounding water especially intense.
"It's important to note that our existing baseline of
knowledge about groundwater quality is somewhat limited,"
Marshall told reporters on a conference call. "One of the
successes in environmental protection is it's going to increase
our baseline understanding of groundwater."
Marshall explained that the monitoring would build on the
existing protections for California groundwater, which he said
were already among the most stringent in the United States.
Tom Howard, executive director of the state's water board,
said it was putting together an expert panel to implement the
new oilfield monitoring program by 2015. All the information
ultimately collected would be posted online, he added.
As for the new well stimulation regulations, they will also
eventually require oil and gas producers to report where they
obtain their water, officials said. The Department of
Conservation will host five public hearings to discuss all the
new rules at cities around the state in January.
Enforcement of the rules would inevitably lead to higher
costs for the department, officials acknowledged, adding that
they would submit a request next June for a budget to reflect
that. Current funding comes from an assessment of 14.06 cents
for every barrel of oil or 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas
Even before regulations are in place, producers must ensure
they are compliant with the new law, and continue to disclose
when they inject chemicals for fracking - as they have done
voluntarily about 1,000 times in the past year, officials said.