California's fracking opponents introduce new moratorium bill

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Feb 21, 2014 6:01pm EST

Kimberly Ramsey (R) protests fracking outside the State Capitol after Governor Jerry Brown delivered his State of the State address at the Capitol in Sacramento, California, January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

Kimberly Ramsey (R) protests fracking outside the State Capitol after Governor Jerry Brown delivered his State of the State address at the Capitol in Sacramento, California, January 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California lawmakers have unveiled a new bill that would halt fracking and other controversial oil extraction practices in the state until a comprehensive review of their impact is complete, reigniting a legislative debate that fracking opponents lost last year.

The bill, introduced Thursday by state senators Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Mark Leno of San Francisco, would put the brakes on fracking until the completion of a multi-agency review of the economic, environmental and public health impacts.

The bill, whose submission was first reported by Reuters last week, would also halt the use of acids to dissolve shale rock to increase the flow of oil into wells until the report is finished.

It would also broaden the scope of a study called for as part of a bill introduced separately last year, since passed into law, that required oil companies to disclose more data about their activities.

The proposed, expanded study would include health risks posed by fracking to low-income residents like those living near Los Angeles' Inglewood Oil Field, the nation's largest urban oil field where both fracking and acid is being used, according to Mitchell, who represents the predominately minority community.

Last year's bill did not seek to place a moratorium on fracking while a study was conducted, an outcome that infuriated many environmentalists in the state who see fracking as a threat to drinking water supplies and a potentially large source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Fracking, where large amounts of water and some chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to break apart shale rock and release oil, is considered a key tool in cracking California's Monterey Shale, a massive deposit that is estimated to hold up to 15 billion barrels of hard-to-reach oil.

The bill faces long odds in the California state legislature, where a similar bill that called for a moratorium failed by a wide margin last year.

California Governor Jerry Brown, who has the power to put a halt to the practice via an executive order, has said he does not support a moratorium. It is better for California to produce its own crude oil than to import it from other states and countries, he has said in the past.

Lawmakers and environmentalists hope that the state's severe drought might help change minds in Sacramento about the need to continue with the water-intensive practice. Fracking in the state used about 300 acre-feet of water last year, or as much as 300 households, according to state records.

"A moratorium on fracking is especially critical as California faces a severe drought with water resources at an all-time low," said Leno.

"We are currently allowing fracking operations to expand despite the potential consequences on our water supply, including availability and price of water, the potential for drinking water contamination and the generation of billions of barrels of polluted water."

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Comments (2)
WhyMeLord wrote:
BAN THE BAN.
Let California destroy itself the good old fashioned way; GREED.
They’re running out of water, maybe they can learn to drink oil.
Fracking is a disaster just waiting to happen; the GOP loves it.
When it all goes terribly bad, there’s always Obama to blame it on.
Never let it be said that California is on the right track anymore.
They haven’t come up with a good plan since Arnold left office.

Feb 21, 2014 7:14pm EST  --  Report as abuse
RAWitt wrote:
Prioritize Water Use That Preserves California’s Vitality

In a California parched by drought, 38 million people now compete for dwindling and increasingly valuable water resources with fisheries, hydroelectric power, recreation, tourism, watershed restoration, and farms that grow most of our nation’s produce. Because the massive water demands, and subsequent groundwater pollution, inherent to horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) accelerate water shortages, state and local leaders should immediately ban fracking to preserve water.

Following meager rainfall in 2011 and 2012, 2013 was the driest year in California history.

With minimal snowpack, most of California experiencing severe to extreme drought, lakes and reservoirs lower than 40% of capacity, and soil moisture depleted, Governor Brown recently declared a state emergency. He’s asked residents and businesses to reduce water consumption in preparation for imminent threats, “including dramatically less water for farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.”

Fracking is controversial both for unsustainably high water consumption and for contaminating water with hazardous, cancer-causing, chemical lubricants. Water poisoned by fracking must be permanently removed from the hydrologic cycle to prevent serious public health risks (thereby worsening water shortages); and injured communities have no legal recourse because fracking exemptions in the 2005 Energy Policy Act protect fossil fuel companies that pollute local water from challenges under the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts. (Informative fracking tutorial: http://ecowatch.com/2013/01/02/industry-insider-to-fracking-opponent/)

In critically dry years, 66% of California’s water typically comes from groundwater; but 33% of the state’s groundwater is already polluted, and 50% of our lakes, wetlands, rivers and streams already exceed EPA water quality standards for toxic pollutants.

With increasingly severe droughts predicted, policies that squander chronically-strained freshwater resources are recklessly shortsighted. Renewable energy is a wiser choice than polluting, water-intensive fracking, because when our clean water runs out, we can’t drink oil.

Feb 27, 2014 7:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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