SAN FRANCISCO -- Underneath much of Central and southern California sits the single largest deposit of shale oil in the United States, boasting a motherlode of some 15 billion barrels of oil.
While the Monterey Shale's unique geology has prevented energy companies from unleashing a new West Coast energy boom, California regulators have begun to take the first steps in regulating hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), a controversial practice decried by environmentalists and the most promising solution for retrieving said oil.
The process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals into a well in order to stimulate the flow of oil or natural gas, fracking is especially helpful in accessing energy deposits in shale formations that would otherwise be out of reach using traditional methods.
Kassie Siegel of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which is in the process of suing the state for doing what it calls an insufficient job of regulating fracking, argues that the practice has the potential to do irreparable harm to the environment. She notes that a quarter of all the chemicals used in fracking are known carcinogens, and some people living near fracked wells have reported health ailments like vomiting, nausea and seizures.
On the other hand, industry representatives have pointed to a recent year-long study conducted in Southern California's Ingleside Oil Field that found no negative health, air quality or seismic effects from the fracking occurring there. The study, paid for by Plains Exploration & Production Company as part of a lawsuit against the energy producer, has been criticized by environmentalists for not looking at the long-term heath effects of fracking.
During a phone conference with members of the media last week, state regulators noted that many of the rules they're planning to put in place mandate practices already standard across the energy industry. However, one area headed for change is the requirement that companies disclose all the chemicals they use in fracking.