Fracking faces fresh legal challenge in California

Fracking continues to face legal challenges across the United States.

A group of environmental activists recently filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in Alameda County Court. DOGGR is charged with regulating all on and offshore drilling in California’s jurisdiction.

In its complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the state agency has been shirking its statutory responsibilities by granting oil and gas companies drilling leases without adequately supervising the “high-risk” fluid injection practices that are used for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

This method of breaking open rock formations to release fossil fuels has unlocked considerable energy reserves trapped in shale and other formations that were previously inaccessible. However, this is hardly the first time the practice has been challenged.

We’ve previously talked about various controversies and complaints related to fracking throughout the United States. In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity has attempted to sue state authorities on similar grounds in the past.

The current challenge against California regulators is predicated on the idea that fracking presents hazards to human health and DOGGR is legally obligated to monitor the practice.

“In fact, DOGGR has admitted that it does not know where or how often hydraulic fracturing occurs in California, how much water is required, or what chemicals are injected underground in fracking fluids, and has admitted that it does not have any information regarding the safety, efficacy, or necessity of the practice,” the complaint alleges.

What qualifies as an “injection” in California?

The environmental group behind the suit specifically claims that state officials are bound to apply the standards of the underground injection control (UIC) program in cases where fracking could be used. Under those guidelines, regulators would be required to perform extensive data collection, analysis and supervision of wells that are being fracked.

Although federal courts ruled in 2005 that fracking should be considered an “underground injection” under the Drinking Water Act, DOGGR has declined to change its definition of “injection” and continues to exclude fracking from the program.

The agency released a draft of new fracking regulations in 2012, but the document clarified that the practice would remain outside the scope of the UIC program.

The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking a ruling that DOGGR’s actions constitute violations of the California Code of Regulations. Furthermore, the group is requesting that the court enjoin DOGGR from granting any additional permits for oil and gas wells that could use fracking until the agency is in compliance with state laws.

Controversy could escalate alongside volume of oil production

California is the country’s fourth-largest oil producing state, with more than 50,000 oil wells and over 1,500 gas wells. And, as we’ve previously discussed, there is significant potential for future development in California, as the state’s Monterey Shale offers a wealth of energy resources.

The New York Times reports that the rock formation, which spans more than 1,700 square miles, could contain as much as two-thirds of the nation’s shale oil reserves, according to current estimates.

One thing that can help producers in California achieve maximum output from their wells while maintaining safety is to upgrade their oil production equipment.

Implementing an oil jet pump or other hydraulic lift equipment can help ensure that new or existing wells are producing at top capacity, while ensuring the safety of workers and the environment. Nothing can close down an oilfield faster than the discovery of contaminants in local drinking water, and this issue is especially salient in areas where fracking has already come under sustained attack by environmentalists.