With vast reserves of hydrocarbon energy trapped deep under its surface, the state of California is getting ready to oversee the exploration for and recovery of the nation’s largest supply of oil and natural gas from shale fields. The California Department of Conservation (DOC) has issued a proposed rule that would govern the petroleum industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing and other methods of recovering oil and natural gas from shale thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.
Technically recoverable shale oil resources in the continental 48 states amount to 23.9 billion barrels. The largest shale oil formation in the U.S., however, is the Monterey—Santos play in southern California, which is estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels or 64 percent of the nation’s total shale oil resources, a potentially enormous energy supply.
But because most shale gas and shale oil wells are only a few years old, their long-term productivity is untested, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Consequently, the long-term production profiles of shale wells and their estimated ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas are uncertain.
Nevertheless, the California DOC is getting ready for the increased use of deep oil and gas recovery through a comprehensive set of regulations required by the state legislature in September. The DOC’s proposal was released on the same day the law was signed. The DOC has established a web site for the rule.
The rule would govern all forms of well stimulation treatment, including hydraulic fracturing. Another key exploration technology, “acid well stimulation treatment,” also would be regulated. Acid stimulation, called acidizing, typically involves the injection of high volumes of hydrofluoric acid, a powerful solvent, into the oil well to dissolve rock deep underground and allow oil to flow up through the well. Conventional hydraulic fracturing, in which water and other chemicals are pumped at high pressure to create fissures in the rocks, reportedly does not work well in many parts of the Monterey Shale—a rock formation known for its complexity and low permeability, which makes hydraulic fracturing less effective.
As proposed, the DOC rule would require a permit for well operations; reports of third-party water tests to be provided to all property owners and tenants near the well; pressure testing of all well tubing for at least 30 minutes before well stimulation; monitoring of all wells during and after operations; storage and handling requirements for all treatment fluids; and public disclosure of “the trade name, supplier, concentration, and a brief description of each additive contained in the wells stimulation fluids.” The rule also would require public disclosure of all sources, volumes, and specific composition of all water used in well stimulation and the disclosure of all disposal of well treatment fluids.
These requirements track with ASCE Policy Statement 539, Hydraulic Fracturing.
The ASCE Government Relations Department will analyze the proposed rule in detail and provide the Society’s official comments to the DOC by the January 14, 2014, deadline. ASCE members in California with professional expertise in oil and gas exploration and water-quality issues are urged to visit the DOC web site to determine whether they should comment on the rule as practicing civil engineers.