Brown administration to create regulations for hydraulic fracturing


SACRAMENTO — Under pressure from state lawmakers and environmentalists, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has agreed to write regulations for one controversial oil extraction method and reexamine rules for another that led to a worker’s death last year.

The administration is seeking money in the next state budget to regulate the booming oil industry and assuage public concern over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Officials plan to develop rules that would ensure the integrity of oil wells and establish reporting requirements for operators that inject chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to tap oil, according to a California Department of Conservation document released this week.

California does not require oil companies to disclose where they use the procedure or what chemicals they inject into the ground. Other states have imposed moratoriums and drawn up rules after toxic chemicals were discovered in drinking water near fracking operations.

Lawmakers have said fracking regulations are long overdue for California, the fourth-largest oil producing state. Until now, regulators had downplayed the need for new rules, arguing that existing law protects drinking water.

A key legislator said he was encouraged by the administration’s shift.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but the first step of many yet to be taken,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “I think the public expects us to get ahead of problems, not wait for a crisis to arise.”

The administration’s plan calls for reviewing and updating the state’s decades-old regulations for other types of “underground injection,” including a popular form of steam extraction that heats the ground and loosens oil deposits.

Oil regulators have linked the procedure to the death of an oil worker who was swallowed by a sinkhole and boiled alive in a caldron of oil fluids last June.

Brown last year fired two state officials who tried to toughen regulation of the procedure.