Sept. 12, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
After passing the California Assembly and Senate on Wednesday, State Bill 4 (SB-4) — the only remaining bill aimed at regulating hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation practices — is heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and is expected to be signed.
According to a statement issued late Wednesday night from the office of State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the author of the bill, “SB-4 would require permits for fracking, acidizing and other oil well stimulation practices. It would require notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study. The study would evaluate potential risks such as groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat.”
In the past year the public and lawmakers were surprised to learn that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has not been regulated or tracked by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the division of the California Department of Conservation responsible for the oversight of oil production in the state. Several fracking bills were written, but only SB-4 survived through committee.
Fracking is a well completion process that is used to stimulate more production from a well. After a well is drilled, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the well to break apart the rock and allow oil and natural gas to flow out. Acidization is a process using hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to dissolve rocks allowing oil and gas to be released. There have been no regulations covering fracking or acidization in the state of California until now.
“We really don’t want to continue down the road where we have to tell the public, ‘We don’t know,’” Pavley told her fellow Senators, before their vote on Wednesday. “We don’t know where we are fracking wells. We don’t know what chemicals are being used. We don’t know how these fluids are being stored. We just don’t know.” Her office and supporters of the bill say that now, the public will know.
The Ojai-based organization Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) sees SB-4 as a chance to add additional oversight, but says local agencies must take on their share of responsibility in protecting public health and safety.
“SB-4 is not perfect, but if it becomes law we stand a far better chance of protecting our fabulous environment in this county than to let oil companies continue to shoot chemicals and acid underground at high pressure without any oversight,” said John Brooks, Oak View resident and president of CFROG. “The state controls what happens underground. Everything else, like truck traffic on roads, land use, noise, air quality, water quality and supply, access roads and graded pads is the responsibility of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and our city councils. CFROG will be working in the coming months to make sure that local protections are also beefed up. Step by step, that’s how progress is made.” The bill is expected to be implemented over the coming year.
Several environmental groups applauded Pavley and most of the bill, but revoked their support of the bill because it did not include the technical changes to language that they wanted. After the bill passed the Assembly Wednesday, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and Environmental Working Group issued a joint press release announcing that they had withdrawn their support of SB-4. In a letter addressed to Pavley that was attached to the press release, the groups pointed to late-in-the-game amendments that they claim are too vague, and might be interpreted to allow DOGGR more discretion in determining when environmental reports are required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They feel that DOGGR should not be given more authority about when to apply CEQA. The letter also asks for clear language that protects the Governor’s “executive authority to issue a moratorium on fracking.”
“Californians deserve to have their health and drinking water sources protected from oil and gas development. Last-minute amendments, added due to oil industry pressure, threaten to weaken the environmental review required by CEQA,” said Miriam Gordon, California Director of Clean Water Action. These groups asked for “technical changes that correct language” in the bill, which they say would allow them to support it in full.
“The Governor’s office asked for interim rules so the public and environment are protected right away,” said Pavley in an email to the Ojai Valley News. “But SB-4’s provisions make clear the bill will not trump DOGGR or a court in deciding exactly how CEQA will apply to fracking.” As for the worries that SB-4 will affect the Governor’s ability to enacting a moratorium on fracking she said, “I stand behind this bill as an insurance policy that does not prevent the Governor or local communities from further restricting these activities.”
The bill is also getting a cool response from the oil industry.
“Unfortunately, SB-4 could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of Western States Petroleum Association. “We are concerned the bill could make it difficult for Californians to reap the enormous benefits offered by development of the Monterey Shale formation.”
The votes ran down party lines for the most part. In the Assembly the bill passed with a 54-20 vote; all “no” votes came from Republicans. Six “yes” votes came from Republicans, including Assembly Member Jeff Gorrell (R-Camarillo). The Senate vote was 29-8, where, again, all “no” votes being cast by Republicans.
According to a statement made by Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the Governor, on Wednesday, Brown plans to sign the bill.