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Fracking Debate Resumes in California

After a chemical disclosure bill was shot down last year, critics of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in California are attempting to rekindle a fire in Sacramento to heat up both regulators and legislators, according to a report in Thursday's Los Angeles Times. Focused on ways to create jobs, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has shied away from the issue, fearing it could stymie growth in the energy sector.

Fracking has long been used in California's oil and gas industry, and officials with the Western States Petroleum Association have assured lawmakers and the general public that it is not a threat to public health or the environment. But critics point to alleged findings of water contamination from fracking in other states, such as Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

While California's proposed fracking chemicals disclosure law (AB 591) failed to pass last year (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2, 2011), controversy concerning Brown's firing of two top state oil/gas regulatory officials last year has revitalized the issue with allegations they were terminated because they opposed fracking (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1).

The LA Times report said nine states have adopted rules like the ones rejected by California lawmakers last year and noted that the Rocky Mountains and the Northeast are two regions where debate over fracking is the most pronounced. Nevertheless, the report said a "quieter battle" over the issue is unfolding in California, alleging that the state's energy industry and Brown's administration scuttled a legislative remedy contending existing environmental laws in the protect the state's drinking water.

Last year's chemical disclosure bill is being revived in the state legislature and another proposal would require drilling operators to notify nearby landowners before starting any fracking near their properties. The latter addresses concerns raised by residents in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles, which is adjacent to an active oilfield about 10 miles southwest of downtown.

A couple of lawsuits aimed a curtailing activity in California are swirling about the industry. One was filed by Community Health Councils and is aimed at a Texas oil operator and Los Angeles County over the Baldwin Hills extraction work. The second was filed by the Washington, DC-based Environmental Working Group, which is suing to prevent fracking on public lands in Monterey and Fresno counties in the north-central part of California.

The LA Times report cited Halliburton as saying it is currently working with state lawmakers on a compromise bill that would increase disclosure of fracking chemicals while protecting the proprietary mixtures of the chemicals, similar to legislation adopted last year in Texas.

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