California’s legislature late Wednesday passed a heavily amended bill (SB 4) aimed at regulating the oil/natural gas practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and Gov. Jerry Brown said he intends to sign the measure. For different reasons, industry, environmental and some major news media expressed displeasure with the version of SB 4 that ultimately passed both houses of state’s legislature.
The Senate late Wednesday night concurred with a version previously passed by the lower house Assembly that draws short of imposing a ban on fracking and was heavily amended.
Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President Catherine Reheis-Boyd expressed disappointment in the final bill, saying that it “could make it difficult for California to reap the enormous benefits offered by the development of the Monterey Shale formation.” Sacramento-based Environment California called SB 4 weak and urged Brown to impose a moratorium on fracking.
Sen. Fran Pavley, who authored the bill, called Wednesday’s action “a stunning victory for the public and the environment that moves California a step closer to regulating fracking, acidizing and other unregulated oilfield practices.
“Unlike at least 14 petroleum producing states, including Texas and Wyoming, California does not currently regulate fracking. The state also lacks regulations for acidizing, which is the use of hydrofluoric acid and other corrosive acids to dissolve shale rock.”
The legislative action comes at a time when California’s state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is nearing the end of a year-long administrative process to carve out new rules governing fracking in the state (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9).
“DOGGR certainly knows where and when wells are being fracked,” WSPA’s Tupper Hull said earlier this month. “All WSPA members and all California Independent Petroleum Association members report their fracking to [the online registry] FracFocus.” While noting that there are no current state regulatory requirements for operators to report hydraulic fracturing, a DOGGR spokesperson said that will be part of regulations being drafted by the agency, and those new rules will be relevant even if SB 4 passes.
In an editorial Thursday, the Los Angeles Times, previously a supporter of SB 4, said that the amended bill is “so flawed that it would be better to kill it and press for more serious legislation next year.” The Times urged the governor to veto the bill, noting that various environmental groups withdrew their support.
However, Brown’s office late Wednesday issued a statement saying he was looking forward to signing the bill, on which his administration has “worked collaboratively with the legislature to craft a bill that comprehensively addresses potential impacts from fracking, including water and air quality, seismic activity and other potential risks.” He called SB 4 “an important step forward.”
Pavley called California’s Monterey Shale potentially the nation’s largest shale deposit and said she thinks acidizing could be the primary tool for accessing it. She said her bill would require permits for fracking, acidizing and other oil well stimulation practices, along with requiring notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study.
“The study would evaluate potential risks such as groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat,” Pavley said.
Critics of the bill wanted a moratorium put on fracking until the state completes the studies called for in SB 4. The absence of a moratorium caused the Times to criticize the state lawmakers for having a “reckless attitude” on the issue.
Nevertheless, Reheis-Boyd said if Brown signs SB 4 it “could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California.” In addition, the bill could eliminate a major source of new high-paying jobs and tax revenue for the state and local governments, she said.
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