As the groundwater management agency for San Benito County, the San Benito County Water District works to protect and augment groundwater supplies. That’s why the District is keeping a watchful eye on any proposed regulations regarding well stimulation treatment or Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) methods for San Benito County. 


One of these treatments is called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, but there are other processes that allow the extraction of oil or natural gas from formations in which the pore space in the rock making up the oil or natural gas reservoir is too tight to allow the flow of fluids or gasses to the well.  Without these processes, the oil or gas cannot be recovered. EOR is being proposed for the Monterey Shale, which is a 1,750-square-mile swath of land in the San Joaquin Valley that extends into southern San Benito County. Oil miners speculate that this area has the potential to produce oil. 


 With the increase in the development of horizontal shale gas wells in various regions of the United States, hydraulic fracturing has become the focus of significant attention.  Some have questions about the safety of continued use of this technology.  


Up until a few years ago, the California Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), who issues permits for this type of activity, focused primarily on reviewing well design. 


Last September, Governor Brown signed SB 4. This Bill will require oil and gas companies to apply for a permit and publicly disclose the chemicals they use, notify neighbors before drilling, and monitor groundwater and air quality. Additionally, this Bill would stipulate seismic testing and mapping of all fault zones prior to any fracturing event; greater coordination among agencies to ensure information sharing and accountability; and an independent, peer-reviewed scientific study that evaluates the risks of  this technology that is scheduled to be completed in 2015. 


The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which the District is a member, has commented on the draft regulations. ACWA is the largest statewide coalition of public water agencies in the country. Its 430 public agency members collectively are responsible for 90% of the water delivered to cities, farms and businesses in California. ACWA’s mission is to assist its members in promoting the development, management and reasonable beneficial use of good quality water at the lowest practical cost in an environmentally balanced manner.


The Groundwater Resources Association of California (GRA) joined ACWA in commenting on the draft regulations. The GRA is the leading state groundwater organization in the nation. GRA’s membership includes over one thousand professionals located throughout California with technical and legal expertise in groundwater. GRA has helped formulate statewide policy and regulation on the development, management, and protection of the state’s groundwater resources, soil and groundwater remediation, and environmental assessments


In a letter addressed to Tim Kustic, state oil and gas supervisor for DOGGR that was sent January 2014, ACWA and GRA wrote that they are “focused on preserving the water quality of local and regional aquifers and watersheds.”


Both groups commented on several aspects of the proposed regulations, such as well integrity, water sampling and testing, groundwater monitoring and well stimulation fluids.


“The potential for degradation of water quality, and material reduction in actual volume of available water through the increased oil and natural gas development in California is an issue that must fully be addressed through DOGGR’s regulatory package,” the letter says.


As stated in the letter, “… ACWA and GRA’s primary concern is the protection of California’ groundwater resources, we are looking forward to the development of effective groundwater monitoring criteria.” The DOGGR will coordinate groundwater monitoring with the State Water Resources Control Board. The mission of the Water Board is, “to ensure the highest reasonable quality for waters of the State, while allocating those waters to achieve the optimum balance of beneficial uses. The joint authority of water allocation and water quality protection enables the Water Board to provide comprehensive protection for California’s waters.”


Until the regulations and the proposed studies are defined and completed, the District will continue to monitor this situation. It is premature to support any effort in support or against Enhanced Oil Recovery in San Benito County until these steps are taken.


Jeff Cattaneo, District Manager, San Benito County Water District