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Why California Should Pass the New Fracking Moratorium Bill

SB 1132 addresses the loopholes in state’s current fracking regulatory law

Last week, Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced a new bill, SB 1132, calling for a moratorium on fracking and other types of unconventional well stimulation in the state (like acidizing).

photoname Photo by Shoshanna Howard/Food and Water WatchAlthough polls showed a majority of Californians opposed fracking, by the end of 2013, state
lawmakers had only passed a weak regulatory bill.

California is the nation’s 4th largest producer of oil, with over 50,000 wells. Eighty percent of these wells are in Kern County around Bakersfield, uneasily sharing the landscape with the state’s productive agricultural industry and contributing to the worst air quality in the nation. Fracking has been happening for decades in California, but a new boom is on the horizon in oil production as oil companies like Chevron and Occidental gear up to use extreme extraction techniques to capture the oil trapped in the Monterey shale formation.

Last year, the legislative session kicked off with the state Democratic party voting to add ‘banning fracking’ to its platform, and 10 different bills to reduce harm from fracking were introduced. This included three bills that called for a moratorium on the practice while the state figured out whether there was any way to protect communities and the environment from fracking’s impacts.

But the oil and gas industry fought back, hard. Although tens of thousands of Californians weighed in against fracking in California, and polls showed a majority of Californians opposing fracking, at the end of 2013, state lawmakers had only passed a weak regulatory bill, SB4. (Read my critique of it here.)
Although the state regulatory agency, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is in the process of writing rules to carry out the law, it’s clear that stronger medicine is needed.

There are two main problems with SB4, no matter how DOGGR implements rules to carry it out:

  • Fracking and acidizing is allowed to continue while regulators conduct the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – essentially treating Californians’ water and health as fracking guinea pigs
  • The current EIR doesn’t assess the full range of impacts of fracking/acidizing.

SB1132 fixes both of these issues. It expands the scope of the current EIR to include economic impacts, effects on private property and land use, as well as the risks to workers laboring in state’s oil fields. And, perhaps even more importantly, it places a moratorium on fracking/acidizing until the EIR is complete and until the review demonstrates that it can be done safely.

This bill is another example of regions that know the oil and gas industry best expressing growing concern about unconventional oil and gas development. By this point prophylactic bans in places never before fracked, like New York and other states and localities, are commonplace.

Of late, however, widespread popular opposition to fracking has arisen in places long friendly to the oil and gas industry. For example, Election day last November was a shock to oil and gas interests as four communities on Colorado’s front range — Fort Collins, Broomfield, Boulder, and Lafayette — voted to ban or impose moratoria on fracking in direct defiance to the state’s fracking booster Governor John Hickenlooper. But even those victories didn’t anticipate the turnaround in Texas that led to  Dallas passing a de facto ban on fracking in December. Now the Texan city of Denton is poised to vote on a ballot initiative that bans fracking outright.

At Earthworks, we are skeptical that fracking/acidizing can be done safely. A growing body of research has linked fracking to increased air pollution, water contamination, negative effects on public health, and induced seismicity. The current drought in Texas and California shows how much our economy is dependent on a stable global climate. Neither California nor the rest of the world can afford the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from expanding our in-state oil industry.

Fracking and well stimulation permanently pollute millions of gallons of water annually. Thousands of acres of land are laying fallow in the San Joaquin Valley, while cattle ranchers are being forced to sell their stocks. Why should agricultural and urban users struggle to secure water while oil and gas companies are allowed to frack with it?

Californians value a clean environment and healthy communities. But California’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources cannot currently protect us from the impacts of fracking. If it could, the EIR wouldn’t be necessary. From earthquakes, to air pollution, to water pollution, the oil companies' answer to public concerns has been, “trust us.” Well, we don't trust them. That's why we need the moratorium and expanded EIR provided by SB1132.

We commend Senators Mitchell and Leno for their efforts, and call on all legislators to support SB1132. Let’s put people ahead of oil companies’ profits.

Jennifer Krill, Executive Director, EARTHWORKSJennifer Krill photo
As program director at Rainforest Action Network, Jennifer Krill helped lead campaigns to protect old growth forests and break America’s oil addiction. She is currently the executive director of EARTHWORKS, an advocacy group that focuses on the negative impacts of mineral and energy extraction.

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