Southern California environment news and trends

Bill to regulate fracking heads to Brown for signature

Activists Protest Fracking In California

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A new fracking law won't satisfy some environmental groups who have been pushing Gov. Jerry Brown for a moratorium. State Senator Fran Pavley originally supported a ban, but went on to author a controversial piece of legislation that adds some disclosure requirements but may be vulnerable to abuse, according to lawyers familiar with CEQA, the state’s environmental quality act.

California lawmakers have sent legislation to the governor's desk that would enact the tightest rules in the nation on fracking, the controversial oil extraction practice.

Hydraulic fracturing -- a process that shoots water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to force petroleum out -- has been happening in California for a while. So Agoura Hills State Senator Fran Pavley found it alarming how little state regulators knew about the process when she asked them about it during a hearing.

"This agency, DOGGR. The Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal recovery, they could not tell me where the wells were being fracked," Pavley says. "They could not tell me what chemicals were being used, how much water was used. The response was, 'I don't know, we don't keep records.'"

Not anymore to the dismay of the Western States Petroleum Association. WSPA has spent more than 2 million dollars lobbying Sacramento this year, more than any other group. It released a statement that the legislation "could make it difficult for California to reap the enormous benefits offered by development of the Monterey Shale formation in the San Joaquin Valley." WSPA says the benefits include "thousands of new jobs, increased tax revenues and higher incomes for residents of one of the poorest regions in the nation."

Under the legislation, drillers will have to obtain permits for fracking, and inform neighbors when it's happening. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters like all that. But they say the amended bill is too watered down. The NRDC's David Pettit says while the law authorizes a statewide study of fracking's environmental consequences, it may not require analysis of each individual well or project.  

"If somebody comes in next to KPCC and says, I want to drill a well right here, and I want to frack it, does that person need to go through CEQA for that individual well," he said, referring to the state's environmental quality act. "Or can they just walk into the DOGGR office, and have DOGGR wave a magic wand and say, go and drill to your heart's content."

Now NRDC is calling for a moratorium - joining environmental groups who never liked Pavley's legislation.

Pavley once backed a moratorium too. "That would be my preference," she said. "Frankly the votes at this time aren't in the legislature and the governor has indicated he wouldn't sign a bill with a moratorium."

Pavley insists any rules governing fracking are better than nothing. The governor agrees. He's signalled that he will sign the bill and make it law.

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