Sept. 10, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Senate Bill 4 (SB-4), penned by State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), is the only remaining live bill in the state aimed at regulating oil field practices — practices many say have been unregulated for too long. It was scheduled for a floor vote last night or possibly today.
Last week the bill was amended on the Assembly floor. According to sources in Pavley’s office, the bill is “very much a moving target and can be amended” again. If the bill gets through the Assembly, it will head to the Senate for confirmation. If it passes there it will head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for final approval.
The bill addresses the lack of regulations covering hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — the well completion process that stimulates production by injecting water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to break apart the rock and release trapped oil and natural gas. Fracking has come under scrutiny as the public, environmental groups and local and state legislators realized that the process is exempt from many federal laws, and is not regulated at the state level. Along with fracking, SB-4 would also regulate acidizing, a process that uses hydrochloric acid to essentially melt the rock, thereby releasing the oil and gas.
Industry spokespeople have come out against the bill, following amendments that expanded its scope to include several well stimulation practices. And in a rare partnership, the Sierra Club of California has joined the oil industry to oppose the bill, albeit for different reasons: the Sierra Club wants more information about chemicals used.
“Take a picture of this. It doesn’t happen often,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club of California, as she sat at the same table as oil industry representatives. The information given out about chemicals “must include quantities and concentrations,” she said, and because it doesn’t, her group is opposing the bill.
The state regulatory body for the oil and gas industry — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) — is in the final steps of putting out formal draft regulations on fracking. But there is no word yet as to when those will be ready for review.
“Best guess is early fall,” said Don Drysdale, head of the public affairs office at DOGGR. When pressed about when “early fall” is, Drysdale said, “Not sure at this point.”
Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) — which formed recently around an effort to prevent new wells in the Upper Ojai area — has now grown to 150 members and is following SB-4 closely.
“CFROG is glad SB-4 is now even stronger. One new amendment requires a water management plan that includes an estimate of how much will be used, where the water will come from and the disposal method,” said John Brooks, president of CFROG and resident of Oak View. “The legislation requires permits for ALL forms of well stimulation including horizontal and acid fracking and also requires notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring, and an independent scientific study. None of this currently is being done. Much more is needed from local government, but this is a great step forward by the state.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) has thrown her support behind the bill. “The discovery that fracking and acidization of oil and gas formation could produce approximately 23.9 billion barrels of petroleum in the continental United States — 65 percent of which is estimated to lie within the Monterey Shale formation underlying portions of Central and Southern California— points to the need for action to ensure protection of the state’s natural resources,” said Feinstein via a press release from her office.
“This bill will address serious unanswered questions about the safety and environmental risks of fracking and acidizing,” said Sen. Pavley. “California needs strict regulation to hold the oil industry accountable for the true cost of its activities.”
If passed, the bill could be implemented sometime in 2014. SB-4 would also require a complete independent study addressing fracking, acidization and other stimulation practices that are used in California.
“Unless the potential dangers of fracking are addressed, we face the possibility of catastrophic consequences to the state’s environment and precious groundwater,” said Feinstein.