Last week, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) adopted a rule requiring pre-notification and reporting of air emissions and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.  SCAQMD regulates air quality in Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.  The rule arose from a September 2012 symposium on fracking in the South Coast Air Basin, including representatives from the government, industry and environmental groups.  In addition to fracking, the rule applies to other production stimulation activities such as gravel packing and acidizing.  The rule will go into effect in early June, 60 days after its adoption on April 5.

The rule will be implemented in two steps, the first of which is the notification and reporting requirements.  At least 24 hours before commencing drilling, well completion or rework activities, the rule requires operators to submit written notification to SCAQMD that specifies the location of the well, the type of activity that will be performed, and the distance, up to 1,500 feet, from the well to the nearest “sensitive receptor”.  Sensitive receptors include residences, educational facilities, daycare centers and health care facilities.  SCAQMD will post this information on its website within 24 hours of its receipt. 

The rule also requires operators and suppliers of chemicals used to report to SCAQMD information relating to air emissions and chemical use.  Within 60 days of completing drilling, well completion or rework activities, the operator must report information relating to combustion equipment and fugitive dust emissions and the volume, management and chemical ingredients of fluids used in the operations.  Suppliers of chemicals for drilling, well completion or rework activities are also required to report the chemicals that are delivered to oil and gas well operators.  SCAQMD will post the information provided for the chemicals used at each well on its website, excluding certain details relating to chemicals for which suppliers claim trade secret protection.  For chemicals identified as trade secrets, SCAQMD will post only the chemical family (or similar descriptor) and identify whether the chemical is an air toxic.      

The purpose of the first step of the rule is to gather information on emissions and chemical use relating to fracking and other production stimulation activities.  No later than two years after implementation of the first step, the second step of the rule will be a report evaluating the information collected and potentially recommending further regulation.  Although the first step of the rule does not at this time restrict fracking activities, it does impose additional administrative requirements and could likely lead to future regulation including emission control requirements and fluid ingredient, volume and management limitations for fracking and other production stimulation activities.

Co-authored by Michael N. Mills and Robin B. Seifried.