Add it to the list along with politics and religion: Fracking, and how to regulate it, is perhaps too divisive a subject for polite dinner conversation.

In the middle is the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), which is responsible for regulating oil and gas. DOGGR officials visited Salinas on Jan. 8 to accept public comment on their draft regulations, and return this afternoon, Wednesday July 23 at 4pm, for another round of comments on a second draft.

DOGGR reviewed more than 150,000 public comments on the first draft, including a letter from county Planning Director Mike Novo. “We believe the state has the responsibility to monitor testing and inspections prior to well stimulation treatments,” he wrote. “The draft regulations were written to give DOGGR the option, not mandatory obligation, to supervise testing and evaluations and should be revised.”

That wasn’t revised. The latest draft, which will be circulating for public comment through July 28, still allows that “Division staff may witness [well stimulation and testing].”

County planners aren’t sure whether they’ll submit a new comment letter, but they’re at work on new local policies. In April, the County Planning Commission voted 7-0 in favor of a two-year moratorium on fracking. DOGGR officials will lead a workshop for the county Board of Supervisors on Sept. 23, and the supervisors are expected to consider the moratorium sometime in October.

“WE BELIEVE THE STATE HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO MONITOR.”

Novo says he’ll recommend it go through at least July 2015, when DOGGR’s regulations will be finalized and go into effect.

Also in October, the Planning Commission will reconsider a set of zoning amendments that would crack down on oil activities. Currently, an operator doesn’t need to pull a fresh permit to tap an old well; the proposed amendments would require a new operator to apply for a new county permit if they plan to frack.

“A lot of wells were permitted under old permits dating back to the 1940s,” Assistant Planner Grace Bogdan says. “They’re very general, and [lack] a lot of the conditions we would put on a permit today.”

Because there hasn’t been a requirement to report fracking activity in the past, and wells can change hands over the decades, county planners aren’t sure how prevalent fracking has been locally. “But we do know that it has been done,” she told the Planning Commission.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is hoping for a new fee system to fund inspectors for oil and gas development on federal lands. President Obama’s proposed 2015-16 budget would create a new fee system that would pay for 60 new BLM inspectors, similar to a new fee system for offshore drilling operators.

It would be a welcome relief for BLM, which has been struggling to keep up with an oil and gas boom: The bureau is responsible for inspection and enforcement on a record 100,000 wells nationwide, with tens of thousands of new wells in recent years.

BLM has been ordered by a federal judge to revisit projections for slow oil industry growth on federal mineral estates, including 2,000 acres in South Monterey County leased to oil prospectors in 2011.

DOGGR holds a public hearing Wednesday, July 23 from 4-7pm at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. You can also submit comments to DOGGRRegulations@conservation.ca.gov by July 28.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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