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Gov. Jerry Brown says he's studying 'fracking' in California

March 23, 2012 |  1:23 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday said that he was taking a closer look at a controversial method of oil extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," as he seeks to help California maintain its role as one of the country's top crude producers.

Speaking to business leaders at a renewable energy conference in Goleta on Friday, Brown said he was studying fracking, which oil companies are touting as a potential key to tapping previously unreachable deposits in the Golden State. Later, the governor told reporters that he was planning a trip to oil-rich Kern County to meet with energy companies and environmentalists to discuss the procedure.

"I'll be on top of it," Brown said.

The comments come as lawmakers push legislation and environmentalists file lawsuits over an expansion of the process in California. The procedure has drawn the greatest attention in the Rocky Mountain West and Northeast, where states have debated moratoriums to develop regulations after toxic chemicals were found in nearby drinking water.

While California has yet to draw up any rules on the extraction method, wherein operators inject chemical-laced water and sand into the ground to break apart rock and release oil and natural gas, Brown said oil companies have an incentive to be good environmental stewards.

"I don’t think any company wants to pollute the aquifer," he told business leaders, "because we have trial lawyers in California -- and a very vigorous tort system. So I think there’s a certain self-discipline that they can operate with the management of fracking issues."

Brown declined to comment on legislation that would require oil companies to disclose where they frack, what chemicals they use and how much water they pump. He said the state already regulates oil drilling but that he was gathering more information on the procedure.

"I called up one of our lead oil companies and said, 'What’s the story with fracking?' " Brown said. "They said, 'It’s not as bad as the environmentalists say, it’s not as safe as the oil companies say.' "

The governor got a warm reception from business leaders as he boasted about ousting the state's top oil and gas regulators last year over permitting delays for oil drilling.

"I fired the people in charge and now our permits are dramatically up," Brown said. "California is the fourth-largest oil producing state and we want to continue that."

RELATED:

Fracking widely used in California with little oversight

Brown ordered firing of oil regulator who took hard line

Effort to reach California offshore oil drilling deal revived

-- Michael J. Mishak in Goleta

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