California Needs a Moratorium on Fracking Now

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A recent poll shows a majority of Californians want a moratorium on fracking. Governor Jerry Brown should give the people what they want.

Leadership doesn’t mean sitting out tough battles. Governor Brown should use his executive power to direct DOGGR, the state oil and gas agency, to carry out its statutory duty to prevent oil and gas operations from harming human health, property, or natural resources and impose a moratorium on all new fracking and well stimulation projects until adequate regulatory safeguards are in place.

As I’ve blogged about many times before, fracking is a controversial oil extraction method that's been linked to drinking water contamination, air pollution, and triggering earthquakes. Millions of Californians already face the threat of fracking in their backyards, and this threat is growing as oil companies are poised to increase their fracking activities, as well as other well stimulation methods, to exploit the Monterey Shale Formation — a massive geological formation in central California that may hold up to 15 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, or two thirds of the country’s shale oil resources.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo put a fracking moratorium in place to allow state regulators time to analyze environmental impacts and develop rules. The state of Vermont and local governments in several states have prohibited fracking entirely.

Yet here in California, regulators have been asleep at the wheel. Californians lack basic information about where fracking is happening, how much water and which chemicals are being used, whether groundwater is being protected, and the extent to which fracking might be polluting our air or triggering earthquakes.

For more than a year, environmental groups, public health advocates, and folks with drilling in their communities have been calling for a “time-out” on fracking so we can better assess the risks and potential impacts involved and ensure that public health and the environment are protected. Last month's poll by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times showed that 58% of California voters want a moratorium on fracking, too, at least until an independent commission has studied its environmental impacts.

Despite the public’s desire for a fracking moratorium, our elected officials have yet to take action. Three concerned legislators introduced moratorium bills this year, but none of them made it out of the Assembly. And while the Brown administration has started the process of putting new fracking regulations in place, and Senator Fran Pavley’s fracking bill, SB 4, could add even greater protections, any resulting regulations—sufficiently protective or not—are still more than a year off, during which time oil companies are free to frack with little oversight or accountability for the resulting impacts to public health and the environment.

How should Governor Brown proceed? He should listen to Californians.  

Whether it’s tackling climate change through AB 32 or creating a comprehensive network of marine protected areas, California has a track record of being a national leader on the environment. Protecting communities from the effects of fracking should be no exception. Governor Brown should listen to the people and use his executive authority to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking until the environmental and public health impacts are studied and adequate and enforceable safeguards are set in place.

Photo: Monterey County oil fields (credit NRDC)

About the Authors

Damon Nagami

Senior Attorney and Director, Southern California Ecosystems Project

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