A proposal to place a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in California (AB 972) passed out of a state senate committee Tuesday and is headed for further consideration, but the bill faces stiff opposition by industry.

Cobbled into what was formerly a health care bill by Southern California Assemblymember, Betsy Butler, AB 972 would prohibit the state oil/gas supervisor from approving any fracking permits until the state approves new rules regulating the practice, which has been done for decades in the state.

Another bill (AB 591) that has the oil/gas industry’s support is still active (see Shale Daily, June 4), but a spokesperson for Butler told NGI’s Shale Daily that the bill was being “watered down,” prompting the interest to set a moratorium to force more discussion in the hopes it would result in rules with more teeth.

“Right now, there is nothing in place; it is just the ‘Wild West’,” said a spokesperson, who said AB 972 would at least “drive the discussion.”

Butler originally planned to introduce the bill earlier this year year, but the fracking debate reemerged in the state legislature (see Shale Daily, March 16). A version of AB 591, California’s proposed fracking chemicals disclosure law, failed to pass last year (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2, 2011), but a subsequent controversy concerning Gov. Jerry Brown’s firing of two top state oil/gas regulatory officials last year revitalized the issue early this year with allegations that they were terminated because they opposed fracking (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1).

With scheduled stops in the Senate Environmental Quality and Appropriations Committees expected after the state lawmakers’ month-long recess in July, AB 972 could be amended. If it were to pass, it most likely would not be until the final two weeks of this year’s legislative session, which ends just before Labor Day, Butler’s spokesperson said.

The goal for the backers of the moratorium is to avoid the foot-dragging in setting some specific regulations and rules for those operators wanting to employ fracking. Industry representatives, such as the Western States Petroleum Association, would argue that there are existing rules in place.

Lawsuits aimed a curtailing fracking activity in California are ongoing. One was filed by Community Health Councils and is aimed at a Texas oil operator and Los Angeles County over the urban, residential-based extraction work in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles (see Shale Daily, June 26). 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.