oil-pumpPreviously, oil extraction locations were limited by the removal techniques available to oil companies.  In recent decades, however, advancements in extraction techniques have provided oil companies with economic alternatives that allow for removal of previously unrecoverable reserves. For regions such as California’s Monterey Shale, where geological limitations have prevented the use of conventional extraction techniques, these advancements are significant.

A February 2013 New York Times publication entitled Vast Oil Reserve May Now Be Within Reach, and Battle Heats Up, commented “Comprising two-thirds of the Unites State’s total estimated shale oil reserves and covering 1,750 square miles from Southern to Central California, the Monterey Shale could turn California into the nation’s top oil-producing state and yield the kind of riches that far smaller shale oil deposits have showered on North Dakota and Texas.”

Accordingly, there has been much debate between the oil companies seeking to reap the potential benefits that Monterey Shale may offer, special interests groups seeking to protect the environment, and the residents who have been or might be affected by such oil extraction. This is, in part, due to the absence of sufficient government regulation regarding extraction techniques known as hydraulic fracting, also known as induced hydraulic fracture, hydraulic fracturing, hydrofracturing, fracking, and fracing. The fracking process, as opposed to conventional methods, can have a profound impact on the land and residents affected by such extraction methods. The resulting controversies between oil companies, special interest groups and residents have led to a growing realization of the necessity of government regulation.

In December 2012, the State of California Department of Conservation promulgated a Pre-Rule Making Discussion Draft, which the Department described as meaning “that this version does not kick off the formal rulemaking process. Instead, it is a starting point for discussion by key stakeholders – industry, the environmental community, and other regulators, as well as interested members of the public – in preparation for the more formal process, which probably will begin in early 2013.” In conjunction with the discussion draft, the Department has also released a ‘Narrative Description of Hydraulic Fracturing Draft Regulations,’ to assist in further understanding of the Discussion Draft. Both of these can be viewed through the Department’s website, which can be accessed at http://www.conservation.ca.gov.

As noted by the State of California’s Department of Conservation, “Public concern over hydraulic fracturing currently is high.” The consequences of unregulated fracking, have resulted in a multitude of civil litigation actions involving oil companies, environmentalists, and individuals residing near extraction sites. It can be expected that implementation of new regulations, will likewise result in additional litigation as well. The complexities involved in these actions are such that jurors, as lay persons, may find difficulty in gaining a full understanding, absent testimony provided from an expert. Consequently, litigators on both sides are utilizing oil industry experts specialized in the California Oil Industry.

Experts employed to provide testimony as a California oil industry expert witness regarding extraction processes, include expertise from petroleum engineers, crude oil experts, shale oil experts, and environmental experts. Perhaps the most controversially litigated matter is the effect that fracturing may have on the water supply. Commonly, the ability to prove or disprove the presence or absence of health related injuries caused by oil extraction methods, must be demonstrated through presentation of evidence from medical experts with the specialized knowledge of oil related health hazards. Another basic concern involved in these causes of action relates to allegations of property damages, property valuations, and even risk of earthquake; these allegations likewise require expert testimony sufficient to prove or disprove such claims. It is unnecessary to list the extensive list of litigation related to the California Oil Industry, suffice to say that hydrofracturing is a provocative matter in the California Court system, and will likely remain so for some time to come.

By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.