California’s Fracking Fluids

The Chemical Recipe

August 12, 2015

California’s Fracking Fluids: California’s fracking disclosure law

Fracking has been used to stimulate production of oil and gas wells in California for more than 60 years amid an appalling lack of oversight and few rules. In 2012, the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, admitted that it did not keep any records on fracking or even know where it was occurring (EWG 2012). Public concern about the health and environmental effects of fracking mounted, and in 2013 the California Legislature 4 California lets companies apply to the oil and gas division for permis- sion to withhold the exact formula of some “trade secret” additives from the website accessible to the public, but those details must still be reported to the state and the chemical constituents of those addi- tives must be publicly disclosed. passed Senate Bill 4, the most comprehensive fracking law in the nation. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law on January 1, 2014.

The law requires drillers to apply for permits for any well activity used to stimulate greater production from a well, whether by fracking or acid. The application must include the location and time of the proposed well treatment, a list of all chemicals to be used, the source of the water used and a plan to monitor groundwater in the area for possible contamination. Notices of the proposed activities are publicly disclosed on the oil and gas division’s website (DOGGR 2015). Property owners near the site must also be notified within 30 days of the activity.

Within 60 days of completing a fracking operation, drillers must disclose the source and amount of water used and the chemicals in the fracking fluid. They must also disclose how much water was recovered, test the wastewater and report all chemicals detected. This information is publicly available in the Well Stimulation Public Disclosure Report, which is posted and regularly updated on the website (DOOGR 2015).

Thirteen states now have laws requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking operations, but most allow the withholding of “trade secrets.” An additional 15 states have chemical disclosure rules that require reporting to FracFocus.org (FracFocus.org 2015), a website that is partly funded by the oil and gas industry. The reporting to that site is known to contain errors or have missing data (Konschink 2013). Trade secrets are allowed on FracFocus, preventing full transparency, and searching for data on the website is cumbersome.

California’s public disclosure program is not without flaws, but it is more useful than FracFocus. Unlike FracFocus, the California website makes it possible to easily search for multiple records and download all records for analysis. Even if drillers refuse to publicly disclose their fracking fluid formulas as “trade secrets,” they must disclose all chemicals used to the state agency, and that list must be made public (SB 4 2013). EWG’s analysis of the disclosures on the Division’s database from December 2013 to February 2015 also shows:

  • Hydraulic fracturing is by far the most common type of well stimulation in California, but some wells are treated by “acid fracturing” or “matrix acidizing,” which involve injecting acids instead of a mix of water and chemicals. About 95 percent of the well treatments involved hydraulic fracturing, 4 percent were matrix acidizing and 1 percent acid fracturing.
  • Nearly all of the more than 1,500 pre-fracking notices reported were for Kern County, although several were for operations in Fresno, Kings and Ventura counties. (Fracking is concentrated in those areas, but it is possible that chemicals could have impacts beyond those regions.)
  • California operators used an average of 62,600 gallons of water for each fracking job. Added chemicals typically made up less than 2 percent of the fluid. Typically only 1-to-5 percent of the fluid was recovered for disposal or recycling.

In its first full year of operation, lax oversight of the disclosure program resulted in missing records and confusing inconsistencies in the information reported to the state (EWG 2015, White 2015). In early 2015, both EWG and the California legislature questioned the oil and gas division about the problems. The head of the division said it was working with drilling operators to help them understand the regulations and that the final regulations would be more specific. Changes in the final regulations included requiring operators to list specific chemicals to be tested in the recovered wastewater and to specify where they disposed of the wastewater. The final regulations for the disclosure program took effect on July 1, 2015.