Major Fracking Bill Passes Calif. Assembly

SACRAMENTO – Legislation passed today by California legislators would take important steps toward improving oversight of potentially dangerous methods of drilling for oil or natural gas or stimulating production, but it would give too much leeway to state officials trying to protect the public from the potential environmental and health risks associated with the controversial oil and gas extraction method known as fracking.

“While there are some very positive aspects of the bill (SB 4), EWG couldn’t support it in the end because of problematic last-minute amendments that could prevent the state from taking necessary steps to protect the public and the environment,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG’s California Director of Government Affairs.

Positive aspects of the bill authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) include:

·      All forms of oil and gas well stimulation would be regulated, not just hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has chosen to ignore both fracking and the use of acid to stimulate oil and gas production, and this legislation would put an end to that. 

·      The bill requires disclosure of all chemicals and water amounts used, and it limits trade secret protection in that all the chemicals must be disclosed while the exact volume can be hidden.

·      It has strong provisions to ensure that adjacent property owners and tenants are notified of impending drilling.

·      The legislation also allows for water quality monitoring before and after drilling and requires a plan for wastewater disposal.

“Unfortunately, the bill was amended in the last days of the legislative session in a manner that results giving too much discretion to state regulators in the environmental reviews done under the California Environmental Quality Act,” said Allayaud.

The measure now returns to the state Senate, and if it passes it will then go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

A 2011 investigation by Environmental Working Group revealed that fracking has been widely used in California for decades, contrary to assurances by officials that its use was uncommon in the state – even though they had never attempted to track the use of the controversial extraction method.

EWG was the sponsor of two previous attempts to legislate how fracking would be regulated in California, AB 591, introduced in 2011 by Assembly member Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), and SB 1054, introduced in 2012 by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). Both measures failed to reach the Governor's desk.

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