California regulators take heat over fracking
California oil regulators on Wednesday capped a series of seven public meetings on hydraulic fracturing with a Sacramento session, pledging to use thousands of public comments to guide their efforts to write rules for the controversial method of oil extraction.
But environmentalists, community activists and residents argued for a moratorium, blasting state officials for allowing oil companies to use the procedure, more commonly known as "fracking," during the rule-making process without regulations in place. They raised concerns about potential environmental and public health hazards of a procedure that involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to tap oil, including the possible contamination of drinking water.
"Unless there's a way to guarantee no leaks, spills, contamination of water … then we simply can’t take the risk," said Meghan Sahli-Wells, a Culver City councilwoman.
Officials said the state's drinking water was already protected by "robust construction standards" for oil wells but acknowledged the need for more information about fracking in California.
"It is a high priority for the governor," said Mark Nechodom, director of the Department of Conservation.
Unlike other oil-producing states, California does not have disclosure rules for fracking, and energy firms have used the procedure here for decades. State officials said they were focused on the present and committed to drafting regulations this year.
"What’s missing in California right now is the knowledge for us of exactly which wells have been fracked," said Tim Kustic, the state's oil and gas supervisor. "We want to have a better handle on what is being put in the wells."
The state has asked energy firms to voluntarily report that information on a national fracking registry, and officials have said they plan to launch an independent study on hydraulic fracturing in California.
Nechodom said the new rules would be based on science.
"We will not create regulations just because we are scared of something," he said.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: A fracking operation on leased farmland near Dimock, Pa. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times