Fracking moratorium advances in California Legislature
A key Senate panel on Tuesday supported legislation that would ban the use of hydraulic fracturing in California until regulators write rules governing the controversial procedure.
In testimony before the state Senate Natural Resources Committee, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) pushed a moratorium on "fracking," echoing the concerns of environmentalists and community activists who fear the potential environmental and public health hazards of a procedure that involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the ground to tap oil.
Representatives from the energy industry told lawmakers that oil companies have used hydraulic fracturing in California for decades without incident.
Much of the anxiety stems from the fact that, unlike other oil-producing states, California does not require oil companies to disclose where they use the procedure or what chemicals they inject into the ground. State regulators asked firms to volunteer that information in March and are now soliciting public comment on fracking, the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy rule-making process.
“Far too much remains unknown today as it relates to fracking in California,” Butler said. “The very entity tasked with overseeing the drilling of oil wells in the state has been unable to produce information as to the extent of fracking taking place today.”
Regulators have conceded the gap in knowledge but contend that hydraulic fracturing poses less of an environmental threat here, in part because of the state's geology.
State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), chairwoman of the committee, called on environmentalists and the oil industry to work on a compromise. Her own legislation, which would have required energy firms to notify property owners before using hydraulic fracturing on or near their land, was rejected in the state Senate last month.
"Neither side should overreach. We should figure this out and make sure it works," she said, citing standing-room-only crowds at state-sponsored fracking workshops in Ventura and Culver City. "The public expects and will be demanding that we do something."
The bill passed, 5-3. AB 972 now moves to the state Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: A fracking operation on leased farmland near Dimock, Pa. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times