'Compromise bill' to regulate fracking advances in Legislature

April 09, 2013

Ventura County Star

By Timm Herdt

Read more: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2013/apr/09/compromise-bill-to-regulate-frack...

SACRAMENTO — Warning the oil industry that California voters will take matters into their own hands if they believe public health concerns are being ignored, Sen. Fran Pavley on Tuesday moved forward what she called a compromise bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

Pavley’s bill, SB 4, would establish for the first time statutory regulations on the oil-drilling practice known as fracking, which involves injecting under high pressure a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep into the earth to crack rock formations to force the release of embedded oil and natural gas.

Fracking in some form has been taking place in California wells for decades, but there have been no regulations on the process other than requiring compliance with the safety standards that apply to all oil and gas wells.

Among other provisions, the bill would require that drillers receive a specific fracking permit from state regulators in advance, disclose the amount of water and chemicals to be used, and give neighboring property owners the ability to request that the quality of groundwater be monitored before and after fracking has occurred.

In addition, the bill would require the Natural Resources Agency to commission a scientific study on the safety of fracking that should be completed by Jan. 1, 2015. If the study is not finished by then, the bill would suspend the issuance of fracking permits until it is completed.

“We’re trying to put regulations in place that will address public concerns,” said Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. “This bill does not place a moratorium on the process. It will go on. I consider this a compromise measure.”

The measure was approved by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on a party-line vote, with majority Democrats in support.

Although representatives of the industry testified against the bill, they tempered their criticisms, an indication that Pavley’s bill is seen as generally preferable to other Legislature proposals that would place a moratorium on fracking.

Earlier this week, the California Chamber of Commerce, which has close ties to the oil industry, included four fracking-regulation measures on its annual list of “job-killer” bills it will lobby to defeat. Notably absent was SB 4.

Pavley said she believes that omission was not only an indication that her bill is in fact a compromise, but also a tacit acknowledgment that regulation is in the industry’s best interest.

“I’ve told the oil companies that the public is going to go there if it thinks they have something to hide,” she said, suggesting that lack of legislative action could potentially lead to a ballot initiative to ban fracking in California.

Paul Deiro, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, acknowledged the industry’s concern about public perception.

“It is in our best interest that we have disclosure,” he said. “To calm the fears that are out there is in our interest, because we believe it’s a safe technology.”

Deiro praised Pavley for being “the driving force” in persuading Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to initiate a process to establish for the first time specific regulations relating to fracking.

The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is circulating what it calls a “discussion draft” of proposed regulations and conducting hearings around the state, including one scheduled for April 19 in Santa Barbara.

“The administration and the governor are committed to that process,” Deiro said.

Pavley said the statutory regulations her bill proposes would provide more certainty to the public and could become effective more quickly than the administrative rules now being formulated by state regulators.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said state oil and gas regulators have surrendered their ability to lead on the issue through their past inaction and by putting forth an initial proposal that she called “so vague and so insignificant.”

“There’s been no transparency on this issue of fracking for years,” Jackson said. “Many of the people in my district would like to see an outright ban.”

Pavley acknowledged that her bill could create a de facto moratorium if the Natural Resources Agency fails to complete a study by 2015, but asserted that the deadline is necessary to put pressure on the Brown administration.

“My goal is not to put in place a moratorium. My goal is to complete the study,” she said. “I’m hearing from a lot of people who don’t understand why I’m not asking for a ban. If there isn’t a problem with fracking, we need to show them.”

The bill next goes to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.