Big news on the hydraulic fracturing front. An independent science panel has found that the direct environmental impact of well stimulation technologies for oil production in California “appear to be relatively limited.” That is, the primary environmental impacts from increased production will be caused by any increase in production generally – not by the well stimulation practices, i.e. “fracking.” The report was commissioned by the Bureau of Land Management to inform the federal agency’s oil and gas policies in California.
The California Council on Science and Technology released a peer-reviewed assessment conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Council’s steering committee included 12 subject matter experts from major research institutes within and outside California under the leadership of Dr. Jane C.S. Long, Principal Associate Director at Large at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The report’s key findings include:
- Well stimulation in California is different than in other states. Here, hydraulic fracturing is used less frequently, in vertical rather than horizontal wells, and uses less water than wells in other states.
- According to the report, it is “highly likely that expanded production in similar reservoirs in the San Joaquin Valley would also use this technology,” but that production in Los Angeles Basin “could likely occur without these technologies.”
- The study found that “current hydraulic fracturing operations in California require a small fraction of statewide water use.” and that there are “no publicly reported instances of potable water contamination from subsurface releases in California.” Some chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing can be incorporated into the produced water, which is pumped up in conjunction with oil production.
- The report also found that hydraulic fracturing does not “produce a felt, let alone damaging, earthquake.” Again, any future seismic effects would be associated with increased production generally and not specifically associated with well stimulation techniques.
This is an important study informing future public policy on hydraulic fracturing and well stimulation technologies. A second expanded report will be prepared for the California Natural Resources Agency in response to Senate Bill 4.