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California needs to bolster regulation of fracking, report says

Report by UC Berkeley Law School says that new technology could sharply increase use of the controversial method of oil and gas extraction and that state regulators aren't equipped to handle it.

April 12, 2013|By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

California needs to strengthen regulation of hydraulic fracturing, according to a UC Berkeley Law School report that identified a number of shortcomings in state oversight of the controversial practice.

Although not new to California, fracking has come under increasing scrutiny recently as states such as Pennsylvania and New York experience a boom in the technique, which involves the high-pressure injection of chemical-laced fluids into the ground to crack rock formations and extract oil and gas. Environmental concerns center on potential groundwater contamination from fracking fluids and disposal of saline wastewater.

The report, released this week by the UC Berkeley Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, says that new technology could sharply increase fracking activity in California and warns that state regulators are not equipped to handle it.

"Hydraulic fracturing presents risks to our environment and human health, and must be properly regulated and controlled," the authors wrote. "This report identifies several areas where the state's knowledge base and existing regulatory scheme are deficient."

The document, released as state regulators are developing new fracking rules and a number of fracking bills are under consideration in the Legislature, contains recommendations for beefing up state oversight. Among them:

• Oil and gas companies should be required to provide state regulators with at least 30 days' notice of hydraulic fracturing activity.

• Energy companies should be required to disclose to the state the formula of fracking chemicals now protected as trade secrets.

• The state should adopt more stringent requirements for testing well integrity and for monitoring during the fracking process.

• Fracking fluid injections should be prohibited in the vicinity of risky earthquake faults.

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