While no hearings have been set as of yet for deciding the fate of several natural gas safety bills alive in the California legislature, all indicators point to the picture becoming clearer following mid-August committee hearings, when state lawmakers return from a month-long recess that begins Friday.
After passing out of the lower house Assembly, a proposed law (AB 591) to address hydraulic fracturing (fracking) passed a second hurdle (see Daily GPI, June 29). in late June in the Senate, being voted out 5-1 from the Environmental Quality Committee (EQ). The measure has been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but it will not take up the measure until after Aug. 14.
Other gas-related measures dealing with pipeline safety issues that have arisen in the wake of last September's catastrophic failure of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) transmission pipeline in San Bruno, CA, south of San Francisco are also slated for review by a legislative committee, according to a Sacramento-based energy lobbyist watching the legislative measures closely.
Major industry sources were still opposed to the fracking measure unless it is amended, but a spokesperson for the measure's prime legislative supporter, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, has indicated that discussions are ongoing with the Western States Petroleum Association and the California Independent Petroleum Association. The spokesperson has indicated that the organizations are getting very close to being able to support Wieckowski's bill.
PG&E is backing two bills dealing with natural gas pipeline safety (SB 44 and SB 216) that passed the state Senate in early June and are slated to go to the appropriations unit in the Assembly (see Daily GPI, June 7). The proposed new laws should strengthen the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) authority over intrastate gas pipelines in accordance with federal regulations.
SB 44 specifically would have the CPUC hold a statewide proceeding to establish upgraded emergency response standards for pipeline operators, and SB 216 would require pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff or remote-controlled sectionalized block valves in high consequence areas and areas of active earthquake faults.