California lawmakers on Thursday rejected an industry-opposed bill (SB 1054) on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but a second fracking measure (AB 591) is still alive.
SB 1054 would have required exploration and production (E&P) companies to notify surrounding property owners of their plans to employ fracking before starting work. The industry is opposed to pre-notification on proprietary grounds. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) was opposed to the measure because it would have put onerous and costly restrictions on producers, it said. AB 591 would not, according to WSPA's Tupper Hull.
State Sen. Fran Pavley, a long-time Democrat lawmaker from Southern California, sponsored the legislation as a "necessary first step" as the California legislators attempt to get their arms around fracking, which has been used in the state for a long time to tap oil deposits but for which there are no specific laws other than more general regulations for traditional oil and gas drilling (see Shale Daily, April 13). Pavley contended she was not trying to "stop fracking."
Separately, WSPA has subsequently reported that a recent survey of producers determined that 628 wells, or about 25% of the oil/gas wells drilled last year (2,300 wells), used fracking. WSPA members, which represent about 80% of E&P operators in the state, also are trying to voluntarily divulge more information on the fracking process and the chemicals used, Hull said.
Pavley's bill would require companies to notify neighboring property owners 30 days before beginning to use hydraulic fracturing. It is "just like you would be expecting your neighbor to put up a sign if they were adding a second story to their house," she said.
Pavley specifically emphasized that her bill is not designed to "stop fracking" but seeks to provide "a good government kind of approach."
Earlier this year, Hull said the E&P sector opposed SB 1054 because "we believe it is unnecessary since AB 591 deals with the disclosure issue. It also alters the very well established and delicate relationships between land owners and mineral rights owners that have evolved over a century and have served all parties well."
AB 591 has passed the state lower house Assembly and is waiting to be revived in the Senate. The California Independent Producers Association (CIPA) is again supporting the measure because it has been amended to accommodate industry concerns.
CIPA is the industry group that is also involved in establishing a tour for Gov. Jerry Brown of oilfields in Kern County in the south end of the oil-rich San Joaquin Valley, something Brown alluded to when he attended an energy conference earlier this year. The producers group has met with the governor and its officials have indicated they think Brown will keep an "open mind" on the issue, and so far that appears to be the case.
WSPA has been emphasizing that there are several myths related to fracking in California because the technology has been rapidly applied to the shale gas boom in other regions of the country with less of a history with it. "In California, hydraulic fracturing has been a routine and proven technology that is used safely when the specific geology or characteristics of a well indicate fracturing will improve the efficiency of energy production," Hull said.
Other myths are that fracking is largely unregulated in California and the E&P industry will not disclose what it is doing with the process, he said, noting that a number of operators in the state are now voluntarily posting information on the website FracFocus, including information on 93 wells in California.