In a move intended to protect groundwater from potential chemical contamination from oil and gas operations, the California Legislature is considering Assembly Bill 591, which has already passed the Assembly and is currently pending in the Senate. This bill would require oil and gas companies to identify to state regulators all chemicals and the amount of water used in new hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations carried out in the state and to safely dispose of any resulting contaminated water. While state regulators do not currently collect any specific information on fracking operations, the proposed law is designed to create a database for potential regulation of any future increased use. If the bill is enacted, California will join only a handful of other states with laws regulating fracking, such as Texas and Wyoming, but with more stringent provisions.
As fracking becomes more prevalent both in California and nationally, California legislators are attempting to ensure that state regulators are collecting adequate background information on its use. While environmental groups support the bill, industry groups have concerns about inadvertent disclosure of potentially confidential business information and trade secrets as well as the scope of the information that would be required to be reported. In particular, industry is concerned about whether the reporting of the quantity of groundwater used would include so-called “reproduced” water, which represents a significant proportion of the total. Industry is also seeking an exemption for any wells not actually drilled through aquifers. As a result, last-minute amendments are still possible as both sides continue to discuss these industry concerns; the last day of the 2011 California legislative session is September 9.