California Fails To Lead On Fracking

There’s troubling news out of Sacramento for anyone concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Two bills that finally would have applied some safeguards and limits to the practice of fracking in California ran in to heated industry opposition and died in the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.

AB 972, by Assemblymember Betsy Butler, would have prohibited any new fracking in California until new fracking regulations are put in place. AB 591, authored by Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, would have required oil and gas companies to disclose fracking-related information such as how much water they’re using and which chemicals are in their fracking fluids and in what amounts. These common sense measures are now buried in the legislative graveyard, right next to Senator Fran Pavley’s SB 1054, which would have required drilling companies to notify neighboring property owners of nearby fracking activities. That bill failed in the Senate a couple of months ago.

I’ve blogged previously about the woeful lack of information on fracking in California, as well as the dire need for a “time-out” on fracking while the state gathers data, conducts studies, and puts appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that our communities and natural resources are protected. That the Legislature has allowed three worthy fracking-related bills to fail this year is inexcusable and an insult to all of us who have been working hard on these complicated issues for months. More importantly, however, California has squandered a critical opportunity to provide direction to regulators as they gear up to draft regulations on fracking, a process that the Department of Conservation has said will begin later this year.

NRDC has long advocated for no new fracking until adequate safeguards are in place. However, given the Legislature’s abject failure to call a time out for fracking even temporarily while protections are put in place, or provide any direction or guidance whatsoever on the issue of fracking, Californians are now left in the disconcerting position of having to rely on the state’s industry-friendly oil and gas agency, DOGGR, to come up with effective regulations on its own.

We need to make our voices heard when the regulatory process starts up in the next couple of months. DOGGR needs to promulgate tough, effective regulations that protect California’s precious water supplies, prevent air pollution and induced seismic activity, and ensure that communities aren’t harmed by oil and gas activities such as fracking. In a previous blog post, I included some of our recommendations for new fracking regulations. We'd like to hear your ideas as well. I'll be updating this blog with information on the regulatory process as it moves forward, so stay tuned. This fight is far from over.