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California Regulator Eyes Tracking of Fracking Chemicals

May 1 (Bloomberg) -- California may set up its own system for tracking chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing by oil and natural gas producers, rather than depend on the current voluntary registry, the state’s energy industry regulator said.

California’s formal rule proposal may also extend the time required for prior notification of fracking, said Mark Nechodom, director of the state Conservation Department. He said the plan may be released in weeks.

“I really don’t want this to delay any further,” Nechodom said yesterday in an interview at a public meeting in Monterey. “We’re having meetings with different stakeholders like the environmental community, the industry, some of the health-care providers. Hopefully, we’ll wrap those up in a few weeks and get our official draft submitted.”

Fracking is a drilling technique that forces millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into rock formations to release trapped oil and gas. A deposit known as the Monterey Shale may hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil, according to federal estimates, two-thirds of the nation’s shale-oil reserves. California is already the fourth-largest oil-producing state.

Opponents say the chemicals used in fracking pose health and environmental risks. The oil industry, through the Western States Petroleum Association, says hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for more than 60 years.

Last Meeting

The Conservation Department, which regulates the oil industry, has been collecting responses to a draft of its plan since December. The meeting in Monterey was the last scheduled to review proposed rules for storing and handling fracking fluids, well monitoring after fracking and preventing water contamination.

The agency is considering its own alternative to FracFocus.org, a voluntary chemical disclosure registry used by the industry, Nechodom said. Oil companies decide what is disclosed in the registry and what is withheld as trade secrets.

“We’re going to end up in a lot of discussion about how is it that we can resolve this tension between the amount of time it takes to develop our own version of a public disclosure database versus using something that’s immediately available,” Nechodom said.

Once the agency formalizes its plans, it will have a year to make them final, Nechodom said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alison Vekshin in Monterey, California at avekshin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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