February 21, 2014 / 11:05 PM / 5 years ago

California's fracking opponents introduce new moratorium bill

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.

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

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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