State commission releases report on hydraulic fracturing calling for reforms in water storage

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A report on hydraulic fracturing commissioned by the California State Legislature called for reforms in water storage and data monitoring.

On Thursday, the California Council on Science and Technology released an expanded well-stimulation report, an independent scientific report on hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking” — and on acid fracturing methods.

The report, conducted primarily by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was commissioned by Senate Bill 4 in 2013 and details the effects of the oil-extraction industry on the state and environment of California. The report’s steering committee, which consisted of 13 researchers and professors, issued a set of recommendations based on the data.

According to the report, one-fifth of all oil and gas production in California is from wells that have used hydraulic fracturing. The report also found that more than half of all produced water from hydraulic fracturing was stored in pits that allow the water to percolate into and contaminate groundwater.

The report recommended that these pits be phased out for groundwater safety and stated that a potential direct effect of hydraulic fracturing was groundwater contamination due to the use of hazardous chemicals. The report additionally recommended a “full disclosure of chemicals used” and a limited use of hazardous chemicals.

But according to Rock Zierman — CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, a trade association for the California oil industry — “the water that is being used (in the percolation pits) is not from hydraulic fracturing. We’d like to get together with them and resolve this.”

While studies from Science Magazine on earthquakes in Oklahoma and Colorado have found that hydraulic fracturing has led to seismic activity, the researchers found “no recorded cases of induced seismicity” in California. They also cautioned that more research and monitoring is needed because of risks seen in “other regions.”

“That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an earthquake,” said principal investigator and Berkeley lab hydrogeologist Jens Birkholzer. “When we’re talking about seismicity, we’re talking about felt jolts or small earthquakes.”

U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Arthur McGarr said that while it is often difficult to determine whether earthquakes in California were induced or natural, Midwest earthquakes are rarely natural.

“One of the issues is how much do induced earthquakes add to the seismic hazard already present in California, and the answer is not much,” McGarr said.

The report called for improving record keeping for oil and gas development so that the state can better analyze and regulate the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

“We do need much more comprehensive industrial information (about) … how much fluid is being injected on a daily or weekly basis,” McGarr said. “The information being supplied from industry is rather crude.”

The report concluded by acknowledging a “set of important data gaps” and recommended a “standing scientific advisory committee” to advise oil and gas regulation in the state.

“It’s not our job to tell the state how to implement our recommendations,” Birkholzer said.

Contact Austin Weinstein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.