A bill aimed at chemical disclosure in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) passed its first hurdle Tuesday in the California Senate, passing out of the Natural Resources and Water Committee with opposing industry groups and lawmakers all indicating that a compromise that should facilitate the measure's continuing legislative journey is close at hand (see Shale Daily, June 14). AB 591 next goes to the Senate Environmental Quality (EQ) Committee.
The bill's principal author, Northern California Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski. told Senate committee members that "we certainly do not want to stop the production of oil and natural gas in the state of California, so we will continue to work with [Energy Committee Chair] Sen. [Alex] Padilla and other members of the committee. We have come a long ways and we will continue to work on this complex issue."
Opponents from the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) expressed concerns and the need to reach a balance between what one lawmaker called the public's right to know and protection of proprietary business information.
For his part, Padilla, whose committee is not slated to consider AB 591, said natural gas is a vital fuel for California that is being used to try to eliminate over the long term coal-fired generation for power supplies, so he wants to make sure WSPA and CIPA eventually support the proposed legislation.
"As chair of the energy committee I am mindful where most of the natural gas goes, and that is not just to residential and commercial users, but to [gas-fired] power plants in and out of this state that are part of us trying to wean ourselves off of coal," Padilla said. "So, to interrupt the supply chain of gas is not just something we don't want to do, but from an energy supply and infrastructure perspective we have to keep an eye on it as well.
"That, along with recognizing geologic differences between the Southwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States, means there are all sorts of industry and protocol differences. I am supporting the bill today, but I will be very interested with how the [industry] conversations continue, recognizing that this bill has been referred to this committee and EQ, and not to our [Energy Committee] to consider possible implications to items in our jurisdiction."
At the beginning of the hearing, which took up a number of bills before getting to AB 591, the representatives from WSPA and CIPA reiterated that they still oppose the measure but feel a compromise will be worked out soon.
"WSPA member companies support disclosure when done in a way that proprietary information is protected, and support further educating the regulator in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources," said Paul Deiro, the WSPA representative. "We owe lots of thanks to the author and his staff for working with us, and we are continuing to work with them to find a solution we can both agree with. I believe we are close."
Deiro and the CIPA representative both stressed that in drilling through groundwater there are already substantial regulations and safeguards that operators must adhere to as a means of preventing any contamination of the water. "The important factor is the well integrity," he said.
CIPA's representative said the Wieckowski "has gone a long way to reflect our concerns," and he thinks that the industry is "almost there" in reaching a resolution of the outstanding issues.
Natural Resources Committee Chair Sen. Fran Pavley said it sounded like the "author is on the right track" in eventually requiring the listing of chemicals used, but not the detail on their relative quantities. "The chemicals we are talking about are a tiny part of the solutions," said Deiro. "It is still over 99% water."