After fracking debate, state Senate confirms conservation director
The state Senate approved Gov. Jerry Brown's pick to head the state Conservation Department on Monday after the nominee assured lawmakers he would address their concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial drilling process driving the nation's oil and gas boom.
Although "fracking" has been used in California to tap crude for decades, regulators are only now beginning to write rules to govern the process. Environmentalists and public health advocates have raised concerns about the potential hazards of the process, which involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the earth to break apart rock and extract previously unreachable fossil fuels.
Legislators have criticized a provision in the state's proposed fracking rules that allow oil companies to withhold disclosure of chemicals they claim to be proprietary.
The nominee, Mark Nechodom, faced a grilling from a legislative committee last week when he said regulators were trying to strike a balance between public disclosure and the state's trade-secrets law. Nechodom later emphasized his commitment to protecting public health and safety in a letter to state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
"I share the committee's view that the protection of public health and safety not be overshadowed by concerns about trade secret protections," he wrote. "Therefore, as I stated at the hearing, the department will keep health and safety as our first priority as we develop the regulations."
Nechodom said his department would work with lawmakers to pass legislation to "ensure that the public has access to critical information affecting public health and safety." He also said regulators were open to changing a provision in the proposed rules so Californians would have more advance notice before hydraulic fracturing operations begin. Draft regulations released by officials last month would require oil companies to notify regulators 10 days before fracking. Regulators would then post that notice on a state website.
On Monday, Steinberg cited Nechodom's letter and urged his colleagues to support the nominee. The nomination passed, 34-0.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: The Inglewood Oil Field in L.A.'s Baldwin Hills. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times