A landmark bill regulating hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, won final approval in the California State Senate last week. Governor Jerry Brown has said that he plans to sign it into law.
SB 4 is the state’s first attempt to exert oversight over fracking, a controversial process that involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals to fracture rock and release the oil or gas locked inside.
Fracking has taken place in California for years, but it has been limited in scope, with most wells located in a remote area of Kern County.
From Big Oil to Environmentalists, No One Is Happy With This Bill
It’s clear why the oil industry would oppose the toughest fracking bill in the nation. The industry has consistently opposed the bill, arguing it would make it harder for them to exploit the estimated 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale Formation in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
Their opposition was powerful enough to contribute to the defeat of stronger bills that imposed moratoriums.
But why aren’t environmentalists happy?
The Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial:
There are reasons to be concerned about possible effects on groundwater and air quality. Even more worrisome for California is the danger of setting off seismic activity; studies in other states where fracking is more established have linked earthquakes to the injection of wastewater into wells, even in areas that are not quake-prone.
In recent amendments, the key regulatory element of the bill was so weakened that it is no longer recognizable…[T]he bill now could exclude many fracking projects from meaningful environmental review. The amendments have led various environmental organizations to withdraw their support. We previously endorsed the bill, and Pavley deserves praise for trying, but at this point SB 4 is so flawed that it would be better to kill it and press for more serious legislation next year.
Why Didn’t California Put a Moratorium on Fracking?
Several bills to put the brakes on fracking until more is learned, similar to New York state’s moratorium on the practice, never made it through the legislative session. Instead, California has this bill which seeks to regulate fracking, rather than halting it.
Along with many other environmental groups, the Sierra Club opposes the bill, arguing that it doesn’t give the public enough information to protect water and air from potential contamination.
Apparently the bill’s author, State Senator Fran Pavley, and the governor’s office said the measure does contain many environmental provisions that would not have been possible without the compromise.
Perhaps they should examine what’s been going on in Pennsylvania in regards to fracking.
As ThinkProgress reports:
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has filed criminal charges against ExxonMobil for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a drilling site in 2010. The Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, had removed a plug from a wastewater tank, leading to 57,000 gallons of contaminated water spilling into the soil.
The Exxon subsidiary has contested the criminal charges, claiming there was “no lasting environmental impact,” and it can “discourage good environmental practices” from guilty companies.
Corporations Not Required to Disclose Their Fracking Practices
What? 57,000 gallons of contaminated water has no impact on the environment?
Even more alarming is the fact that companies aren’t necessarily required to disclose to the public everything about their fracking practices.
Thanks to laws sponsored by ExxonMobil and pushed by pro-corporation groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), states have allowed minimum disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluid. This needs to change.
Fracking is not going away, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be subject to the toughest possible safety regulations.
A July study found that increased amounts of methane and other stray gases have been discovered in drinking water near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus shale region. Concentrations of methane, for example, were sometimes found to be six times higher in drinking water located within one kilometer of drilling operations.
Then there are reports of earthquakes linked to fracking and about the huge amount of water needed for the process.
“I still believe that a moratorium is the best way to go with respect to fracking,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, “but this bill is the next best alternative.”
Do you agree?
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