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State issues proposal to ban fracking

California oil regulators have issued a draft rule that would ban fracking and certain other well-stimulation techniques in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom's declaration one month ago that the controversial practice will halt statewide within three years.

The "discussion draft" released for public review Friday proposes to, by Jan. 1, 2024, phase out permitting of the procedure also known as hydraulic fracturing, as well as related technologies such as acid fracturing and acid-matrix stimulation.

The oil-regulating agency that issued the draft, the California Geologic Energy Management Division, said Monday it would not affect oilfield wastewater disposal, cyclic steaming, steam floods or water floods — locally common techniques that, like fracking, involve underground injections but which are not intended to create channels in rock formations so that petroleum can flow to the surface.

Fracking uses water, sand and small concentrations of sometimes toxic chemicals to break open underground oil and gas deposits. It is used more frequently in Kern County than anywhere else in the state.

The procedure has been performed for decades in California without any documented instance of groundwater contamination. But it has gained infamy nationwide as a source of methane releases and as a prolific producer of petroleum at a time when climate activists are looking to end petroleum production altogether.

CalGEM says fracking is responsible for only about 2 percent of California's in-state oil production. But the Western States Petroleum Association trade group, which spoke out Monday against the proposed ban, says the procedure accounts for 17 percent of the state's total.

“Banning nearly 20 percent of the energy production in our state will only hurt workers, families and communities in California, especially Kern County," WSPA stated by email. "Through all means possible, we will join with workers, community leaders and others who wish to protect access to safe, affordable and reliable energy to fight this harmful mandate.”

Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Food & Water Watch called the draft encouraging but said by email Newsom should move more quickly to phase out fracking in California.

“Gov. Newsom has the authority and ability to ban fracking right now," Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy stated. "Waiting two and a half years only exposes California's frontline communities to imminent environmental and health hazards while giving the oil and gas industry time to stockpile permits and cultivate influence over policy makers.”

The state Legislature put in place California's first fracking-related rules in 2013. The legislation required oil companies to undertake several new steps when fracking, including seismic and groundwater monitoring.

Since then, environmental groups opposed to the use of fracking have pressured the Newsom administration to slow the rate of permits allowing the practice. The state has responded by putting in place additional oversight including permit reviews by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Last fall Newsom called on state lawmakers to put forward a bill that would ban fracking by 2024. They responded with legislation that would phase out the technique along with cyclic steaming and other common injection procedures. The bill died in committee last month after labor unions came out against it.

On April 23, Newsom called on CalGEM to stop issuing fracking permits by January 2024. That same day he turned to the California Air Resources Board to come up with ways to end all in-state oil production as part of the state's goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.

CalGEM says the goals of Friday's draft are the protection of "life, health, property and natural resources; public health and safety; and environmental quality, including reducing and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions associated with the development of hydrocarbon resources."

The division is accepting written comments until July 4 by email at CalGEMRegulations@conservation.ca.gov. It said comments received during the comment period will be considered as it works to develop regulations for a formal rule-making process.