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U of California Study Highlights Environmental Risks from Fracking

By Everett & Associates on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:17 AM in Environmental Issues

Some studies suggest that California’s Monterey Shale holds world-class reserves of oil and gas, now recoverable due to advances in fracking and directional drilling. What are the environmental consequences of a possible renaissance of petroleum exploration and production in the state and across the nation? L. Everett & Associates has been very active addressing the environmental aspects of fracking. Dr. Everett co-chaired (with senior scientists from DOE) the recent World Federation of Scientists symposium on environmental issues related to fracking. We are also working with a team of scientists and engineers to develop protocols for groundwater and vadose zone monitoring at fracking sites. Using breakthrough continuous methane monitoring systems from the UK and real-time telemetry, we are providing leading-edge monitoring technology for fracking operations.

The University of California-Berkeley Law School’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment recently released a report on fracking in California, focusing on wastewater and potential water quality impacts. The report, Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in California: A Wastewater and Water Quality Perspective, notes that California lags behind other states on hydraulic fracturing regulation.

The environmental risks from hydraulic fracturing include contamination of groundwater and surface waters from well casing failure, improper fluid handling at the well site, and improper treatment and discharge of produced water that contains harmful substances. Media reports from Pennsylvania and New York have highlighted problems such as water quality impacts to rivers due to inadequate treatment and handling of wastewater and instances of flammable levels of methane in well water, apparently due to fracking.

Legal activity related to fracking is also heating up. Just this month, a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management did not adequately consider the risks from fracking in its granting of oil and gas leases on federal lands in California.  

This seems to be an example of technology moving ahead faster than the states and federal government can respond with appropriate regulation. The UC Berkeley report urges greater transparency and increased accountability for oil and gas operators. Among suggestions in the report, regulatory agencies should require comprehensive information on where, when, and how fracking will occur in the State, including a list of chemicals to be used in fracking fluid. This last recommendation is contentious because many oil companies consider their formulations of fracking fluid to be proprietary.

The report also suggests baseline testing of water quality in aquifers near oil and gas production activity, to enable tracing potential contamination to operators and assess pre-fracking water quality; better regulation and enforcement of fluid storage and handling at well sites and better tracking and handling of fracking wastewater to protect against potential water impacts. The report also urges support for more peer-reviewed studies on the risks that fracking poses to California water resources and other potential environmental impacts.