Are Regulators Ignoring California’s New Fracking Law, SB4?

Repost from NBC Bay Area, Investigative Unit

Are Regulators Ignoring California’s New Fracking Law?

An analysis of oil wells fracked and reported by industry since the beginning of the year shows dozens of those wells are not showing up on the State’s website, as required by new state law.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014  |  By Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Scott Pham and Mark Villarreal

As many as 77 different oil wells that the gas and oil industry reported were fracked in January and February had yet to show up on the website run by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by May 20, 2014. Stephen Stock reports in a video that aired on May 27, 2014.

As many as 77 different oil wells that the gas and oil industry reported were fracked in January and February had yet to show up on the website run by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by May 20, 2014.

That apparently flies in the face of a new law, titled [Senate Bill Four] or SB4, which requires the state to notify residents within 60 days of any well stimulation. SB4 also was supposed to require that oil and gas companies notify neighbors about upcoming well stimulation activities.

Well stimulation includes things such as hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), the use of gravel or hydrochloric acid, or other acids to stimulate well production.

Governor Brown signed the bill into law last September [pdf] and it took effect January 1, 2014.

Environmental Group, The Center For Biological Diversity analyzed publicly available fracking records. NBC Bay Area verified the analysis and found a total of 116 oil wells that have been fracked and voluntarily reported on the industry’s own website, Frac Focus.

Those fracking operations took place in January and February of 2014, after the new law took effect and long past the 60-day notification period.

As of May 20, 2014, 77 of those 116 wells had not yet been posted on the State of California’s website run by DOGGR.

The Center for Biological Diversity and NBC Bay Area also independently verified 62 separate wells where local air quality management records show hydrochloric acid was used. Those 62 wells don’t show up on the DOGGR website either, as of May 20, 2014.

That hydrocholoric acid data comes from the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California (SCAQMD).

The new state law only requires that DOGGR post the use of hydrochloric acid on wells when the technique is used to stimulate well production.

State officials deny DOGGR is dragging its feet in implementing the new law, even though there are a number of wells that should have been listed on the state’s website before May 20th of this year.

“We’re hitting all of our marks,” said Jason Marshall, Chief Deputy Director of California’s Department of Conservation, which oversees DOGGR and the implementation of SB4.

“The requirements of SB4 is for the operators [oil and gas companies] to report to Frac Focus within 60 days after completing the stimulation job, the fracking, or other forms of stimulation,” said Marshall. “Then there’s an additional 15 days after that for it to show up on our site.”

“We are working diligently,” Marshall told NBC Bay Area. “As the operators are reporting the stuff on Frac Focus, we’re working diligently with them to get that additional information, so then that we can link that up so we can post it on our site.

Marshall also said that the reporting requirements for activities such as the use of hydrochloric acid are different between DOGGR and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“There’s actually a difference of reporting requirements down in the South Coast Air district, and from that versus what’s in Senate Bill Four (SB4),” Marshall said, “And there have been a number of operations that are not reportable under Senate Bill 4, but are under the South Coast rule and we’ve been working with South Coast so we have a little bit better continuity. We hope to remove the confusion for the public on well, how come it’s reported here but not there.”

Marhsall admitted that “some” the department’s reporting may confuse an already confused public. “But we can only control what we’re handed, in terms of implementation of SB4,” he said.

Hollin Kretzmann with the Center for Biological Diversity said all this is a smokescreen. Kretzmann, an attorney, who originally analyzed the fracking and well stimulation data, said the state simply isn’t following the new law.

The bottom line is these legislations aren’t working,” said Kretzmann. “They aren’t keeping communities safe from the dangers of fracking.”

That’s why Kretzmann says The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, citing these discrepancies as reason to call for an immediate halt to fracking throughout California.

“Basically, fracking communities across California are being kept in the dark about what’s happening in their communities,” said Kretzmann. “Fracking is a dangerous practice and to not know where it’s happening or how frequently is a huge concern to not just me but to all Californians.”

Living Next Door to a Drilling Operation

At first glance St Andrews Gardens Apartments in Los Angeles appears like any other neighborhood in California.

But beyond the cinderblock wall and behind a stretched tarp next to the parking lot, St Andrews Gardens’ resident Don Martin only recently discovered that an oil drilling operation was using hydrochloric acid to treat the well behind a wall.

“The only barrier between this particular site and our apartment units is this wall,” Martin said. “It angers me because first of all, we weren’t informed there were chemicals at this particular location. Absolutely, we have a right to know what’s going on in our back yard behind that tarp.”

“SB4 is still a new law, it doesn’t happen overnight,” said State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, who co-sponsored SB4.

Even so, Senator Leno is concerned about what NBC Bay Area and The Center for Biological Diversity found in the analysis of the data.

He says that’s why he is now calling for a halt to all well stimulation including fracking until the issue can be studied further.

“I’m concerned and it only reinforces why we should consider a moratorium while we gather the information that’s required in SB4,” Leno told NBC Bay Area.

When asked if the point of SB4 was to inform, educate and clear up public confusion, Jason Marshall of California’s Department of Conservation agreed but said DOGGR is complying with the law as it is currently written.

“It absolutely is the point,” said Marshall. “One of the central points of SB4 is to increase public transparency. But again, we can’t impose more reporting requirements on operators.”

Los Angeles resident Don Martin says he just wants himself and his neighbors living next to the well to be informed.

“It started to be a concern to our health and safety,” said Martin. “In order to protect the residents here, it [SB4] absolutely needs to be enforced. And that’s part of the problem is the lack of enforcement.”

The Department of Conservation’s Jason Marshall does admit the law could and should be tweaked to help clear up confusion and San Francisco State Senator Leno says he will work to make that happen.

 

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Davis and “Uprail” Communities organize to oppose Crude By Rail

Repost from Cool Davis, Davis, California

Crude-by-Rail Opportunity for Written Comments

Workshop on How to Respond to the Draft EIR
Wednesday, June 18 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Fellowship Hall at Davis Community Church (421 D Street)
Instruction, brainstorming, and organizing our efforts
Refreshments!

The Draft EIR for the Valero rail terminal Project in Benicia (70,000 barrels of crude oil /day or one unit train of 100 cars over 1 mile) will be released for a 45-day public comment period on June 10, with a possible extension to 60 or 90 days for review.

Our city will comment and has invited surrounding jurisdictions to join them. Other organizations and concerned individuals are also invited to make written comments during the comment period. To inform yourself about the project and begin thinking how you might respond, some recommended resources are:

http://www.beniciaindependent.com It posts all the official documents related to the proposed project as well as a plethora of articles.

 http://www.sightline.org is also a terrific resource for the bigger picture of crude-by-rail and also coal and natural gas export. http://www.sightline.org/research/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/ and http://daily.sightline.org/blog_series/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/ This blog series is outstanding, although it is aimed at Washington and Oregon which are besieged by trains compared to CA so far.

• Natural Resources Defense Council letter on safety (30 pages) http://yolanoclimateaction.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/rail-safety-comments-final-group-letter.pdf

• Two reports by Forest Ethics,    http://yolanoclimateaction.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/off-the-rails-ultimate-nw-forst-ethics-report.pdf     and http://forestethics.org//sites/forestethics.huang.radicaldesigns.org/files/ForestEthics-Refineries-Report-Sept2012.pdf

• Document by Attorney General Kamala Harris on safety and health concerns http://yolanoclimateaction.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/kamala-harris-addresses-inadequate-eir-on-wespac-in-pittsburg/#more-107

• An article on liability which is an angle that may not be addressed in the DEIR, http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/03/17/record-year-oil-train-accidents-leaves-insurers-wary
Gov. Brown added $6.7 million to the Office of Spill Prevention & Response to handle accidents.  It won’t go far in a catastrophe.

• More on risk assessment for railroads and who will be responsible for liability. http://daily.sightline.org/2014/05/19/risk-assessment-for-railroads/

• Rachel Maddow’s May 2, 2014 broadcast, “Public Safety at risk by Oil Train Shipments” at http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show

Key areas for uprail responders will most likely include public safety, the hazards of spills in terms of the environment, the insistence on the Right-to-know laws, health risks, liability issues, and the true cost of oil in terms of climate change.  Benicia has to respond to all comments in their final EIR, so the more specific, thoughtful and numerous our comments, the better.  Different people can address different aspects.

Another opportunity for citizen response: The Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County request for a rail spur for 5 oil trains of 88 cars per week expects to release their Draft EIR possibly in July.

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Washington State: federal emergency order not enough

Repost from Seattle Weekly News

Emergency Order Requires Railroads to Report Bakken Oil, but Is It Enough?

By Jerry Cornfield Thu., May 29 2014

By the end of next week, Washington will learn how often tank cars of oil siphoned from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale are getting shipped by rail through the state.

An emergency order from the U.S. Transportation Department requires railroads to tell the state how many trains carrying this highly flammable varietal of black gold are expected to travel through Washington each week, and on which routes.

Railroads are not required to reveal exactly what days and times the trains are coming or how much crude oil is getting transported.

Community leaders, emergency responders and some politicians say that’s the information they really need to be prepared for a derailment, spill or other type of accident.

They’re aware of oil train derailments in Virginia in April, in Alabama in November; and in Quebec last July, where 47 people died.

They know the chances of an accident are increasing as rail shipments of all types of crude oil multiply in Washington. The state Department of Ecology estimates it went from zero barrels in 2011 to nearly 17 million barrels—roughly 714 million gallons—in 2013.

But rather than criticize the order as inadequate, these leaders cite the federal action as a step forward.

“We’re all kind of worried about (Bakken crude) because it is much more flammable than regular crude oil. We have been asking for more information,” said Brad Reading, assistant chief of Snohomish County Fire District 1 and chairman of the countywide Special Operations Policy Board which handles planning for hazardous materials incidents. “This is certainly a step forward.”

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said he understood the federal change “wasn’t overwhelming” in its scope when it was announced in early May

“From the perspective of public safety, the greater the detail the better, so any movement in that direction is good,” he said.

The rules, which kick in June 6 and apply to all 50 states, cover only shipments of at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude. That sounds like a lot, except when you consider that one tank car holds about 30,000 gallons of crude oil, and oil trains commonly have 100 or more cars hitched together.

Railroads must give the State Emergency Response Commission an estimate of how many trains will run through each county each week. The commission will notify the counties.

After railroads provide the information next week, they won’t need to contact the state again unless the number of trains carrying Bakken oil increases or decreases by 25 percent or more.

Refiners and railroads aren’t enamored with the notification directive. They worry it could increase the risk of sabotage and encourage daring activists to try to block trains through protests.

They’d prefer not to see the information publicized. State emergency management officials plan to post it online but on Tuesday were checking to find out if they are barred from doing so.

And the federal rules don’t deal with the safety of the rail cars in which the Bakken is shipped. That’s a separate conversation going on in Washington, D.C. where the Obama Administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are likely to impose tougher standards for rail car construction.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee, said the new notification rule is “a piece of the puzzle” but tank car safety is critically important and needs addressing sooner than later.

He’s planning to hold a public hearing on oil trains June 17 in Spokane.

“State lawmakers must continue to pressure the federal government to take stronger action,” he said when the order came out May 7. “It is what communities throughout Washington deserve and what we didn’t get from our federal leaders today.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, runs regularly at www.heraldnet.com .

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