California clamps down on fracking (sort of)



Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Sept. 20 what some lawmakers called the toughest fracking regulations in the country. In a measure of just how polarized the debate over the controversial oil-well-stimulation practice has become, the bill encountered opposition from both the oil industry and some environmental groups.

Authored by State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Thousand Oaks), the law will require oil operators to seek permits and provide public disclosure of their plans to use one of two previously unregulated well-stimulation techniques. One of them, fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—involves pumping large volumes of chemically treated water and sand into a well to loosen oil deposits separated by rock.

The Monterey Shale formation underlies much of the Central Coast and southern San Joaquin Valley. The discovery of undisclosed fracking operations near Los Olivos in 2011 and in the Santa Barbara Channel just this summer stirred local protests like those going on in oil-producing regions nationwide.

“This is a first step toward greater transparency, accountability, and protection of the public and the environment,” Pavley said in a statement.

Pavley’s staff spent considerable energy in the final weeks of the session fending off attacks from a coalition of environmentalists who pushed for a fracking moratorium earlier in 2013.

Several prominent conservation groups worried that vague language in Pavley’s compromise bill might make it harder for cities, counties, and local regulatory boards to put their own restrictions on fracking.

Pavley’s office responded that the new law shouldn’t interfere with the land-use powers of local governments. Pavley wrote a Sept. 12 letter to Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt stating she intended to preserve the ability of local officials to conduct a more thorough fracking review than state law demands.

Santa Barbara County passed local fracking regulations in 2012. Several California cities and counties have since followed suit

The Western States Petroleum Association has said it opposes any effort to regulate fracking through legislation instead of state agency rulemaking. Association president Catherine Reheis-Boyd said the industry will look to make sure the new law is applied in a balanced way as permitted fracking begins.

“There is no longer a place in California for the emotion-fueled demands for a moratorium of hydraulic fracturing,” she remarked.

However, there might have been another story behind the scenes. Several background sources said the industry pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, to win an environmental review exemption for fracking on the final day for bill amendments.

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