Governor Signs Fracking Bill


SAN FRANCISCO—On September 20, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that regulates hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

“This is a first step toward greater transparency, accountability and protection of the public and the environment,” said Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), author of SB 4. “Now we need immediate, robust enforcement and widespread public involvement to ensure the law is upheld to its fullest,” she added.

Brown said SB 4 “establishes strong environmental protections and transparency requirements for the practice known as fracking.”

***image3***The bill “establishes a comprehensive regulatory program for oil and gas well stimulation treatments,” according to the bill’s text, and defines well stimulation as “any treatment of a well designed to enhance oil and gas production or recovery by increasing the permeability of the formation.” The bill also requires an independent scientific study.

“Starting January 1, 2014, oil companies will not be allowed to frack or acidize in California unless they test the groundwater, notify neighbors and list each and every chemical on the Internet,” Pavley said.

The bill, the first of its kind in California, also requires oil companies to get permits and disclose chemical uses before fracking as well as conduct groundwater tests.

During his signing message, Brown said he would look for “additional clarifying amendments” and direct the California Department of Conservation “to development an efficient permitting program for well stimulation activities that groups permits together based on factors such as geologic conditions and environmental impacts, while providing for more particularized review in other situations when necessary.”

Despite being signed into law, there were some concerns from conservation groups regarding the bill.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) sent a letter stating SB 4 imposes a moratorium on fracking, which would unnecessarily threaten the supply of oil and natural gas, raise business costs and harm the state’s economy.

“Oil and gas production as a whole is heavily regulated and monitored, and hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades with no reported incidents of harm to the environment or public health,” the letter reads. “Opponents argue that SB 4 will not provide added public health or environmental protections, but it will increase business costs, hamper California’s economic recovery and deprive our state of much-needed fuel jobs and tax revenues indefinitely,” the WSPA added.

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) supported the bill, stating California is regarded as the nation’s leader in environmental issues, but lagging in this issue.

“Our state lags behind other major oil and gas producing states in the development of a legal and regulatory framework to address fracking and the significant risks it poses to the public health, safety, and the natural environment,” they said. “No one but the oil industry truly knows the location, extent or frequency of fracking, the source and volume of water used, or what chemicals are being utilized. SB 4 would remedy this status quo,” they added.

The regulations listed in SB 4 are now considered the nation’s toughest restrictions on fracking, according to reports.

By Melissa Simon