State regulators at work on California's first "fracking" rules said Thursday they may require oil companies to provide 30 days' notice before hydraulically fracturing a production well -- triple the amount of time originally proposed last year.
The reason for the change of heart: Members of the public and state water agencies said at recent state workshops that 10 days may not be enough time for a thorough review of oil field operators' "fracking" plans.
Although nothing is final, 30 days is now being looked at as a minimum notice requirement, said Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which is drafting the state's first rules specific to the decades-old oil field technique.
"We're probably talking easily a 30-day public notice," he said.
Making the public aware of plans to frack a well would largely be a courtesy rather than a practical matter because there are no plans to allow anyone but DOGGR to stall or halt a frack job. Agency officials say their main concern is making sure wells do not rupture and allow chemicals to seep into aquifers by accident.
Fracking pumps sand, large amounts of water and small concentrations of sometimes-toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to free up oil and gas deposits. The practice has proved highly useful to the industry even as critics worry that it presents environmental risks.
An industry representative was skeptical but not dismissive of any proposal that would force the industry to provide 30 days' notice instead of 10.
Nick Ortiz, with the Western States Petroleum Association, said operators favor shorter notice periods because they offer greater flexibility under changing conditions.
"Operators have to be nimble in this environment," he said.
Ortiz noted that the industry is not necessarily opposed to a 30-day notice period, and he conceded that state agencies and members of the public benefit by having more time to review fracking plans.
"The perfect timeline has to take into account all of those" factors, he said.
The fracking rules are still in the draft phase and wouldn't take effect until summer 2014 at the earliest.
DOGGR's comments about possibly revising draft fracking rules came at a quarterly meeting of industry representatives and government regulators at a Chevron facility in McKittrick.