By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 11 A hotly contested bill
that would impose California's first regulations on fracking and
other oil production practices passed the state Assembly on
Wednesday, despite opposition from environmentalists and oil
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the practice of
injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rock
formations and free up oil and natural gas. The technology makes
it possible for oil companies to unlock California's vast
Monterey Shale deposit, which is estimated to hold 15.4 billion
barrels of recoverable oil.
Under the bill, passed by a vote of 47-17, companies would
be required to obtain permits for fracking as well as acidizing,
the use of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals to dissolve
shale rock. Oil company executives have previously said
acidizing could be even more useful than fracking in getting at
the Monterey Shale reserves.
The bill would also require notification of neighbors,
public disclosure of the chemicals used, as well as 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.
"There are still many unanswered questions about the use and
impacts of fracking and acidizing, and it is in the interest of
all Californians to monitor and regulate these practices," said
state Senator Fran Pavley, an Aurora Hills Democrat who wrote
the bill, SB 4. "Ultimately the oil industry, not the public,
should be held accountable for the costs of these activities."
The bill was opposed by environmental groups that wanted to
see an outright ban on fracking in the state.
They were especially critical of amendments added to the
bill late last week that they said would cut some existing
requirements for environmental review.
The new language would also make it more difficult for the
governor or regulators to deny a fracking permit until the state
finalizes fracking regulations it is currently developing on a
separate track. They are not expected to be completed until
"We would truly be better off passing no fracking
legislation this year than we would be if SB 4 passes in its
current form," a coalition of environmental groups including
CREDO, MoveOn.org and Friends of the Earth said last week.
It was also opposed by oil company interests in the state,
which said it could make it difficult for California to reap the
benefits offered by development of the Monterey Shale, including
thousands of new jobs, increased tax revenue, and higher incomes
for residents in one of the poorest regions in the nation.
"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
the Western State Petroleum Association, which represents oil
companies in California.
The bill now goes to the California Senate for a concurrence
vote. The Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill in
late May, has until Friday to vote on the bill.
If it passes the Senate, California Governor Jerry Brown
will sign it into law, his office said on Wednesday.
"The administration has worked collaboratively with the
legislature to craft a bill that comprehensively addresses
potential impacts from fracking, including water and air
quality, seismic activity and other potential risks," Brown
spokesman Evan Westrup said.
"SB 4 is an important step forward and the governor looks
forward to signing it once it reaches his desk," he said.