PolitiCal

On politics in the Golden State

Category: energy

Lawmakers to hold hearing on fracking

InglewoodOilField

State lawmakers will hold a hearing next month to examine the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in California.

Unlike other major oil-producing states, California does not require energy firms to disclose where they use the controversial procedure or what chemicals they inject into the ground. Regulators released draft rules for fracking last month that would mandate such disclosure but allow oil companies to keep secret the names of certain chemicals they claim to be proprietary.

Lawmakers have expressed concerns about that provision, raising safety questions about the hundreds of chemicals used — many of them known carcinogens — and the potential for drinking water contamination.

The joint hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water and Environmental Quality committees is set for Feb. 12.

Legislation to regulate fracking died last year in the face of industry opposition. Oil companies say the technology is safe and that the trade-secrets clause is necessary to protect their competitive advantage.

At least two lawmakers -- state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) -- have revived legislation to compel disclosure, even as regulators undertake the rulemaking process.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: The Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

While California considers fracking rules, legal battles flare elsewhere

As California considers rules for hydraulic fracturing, a legal battle in Wyoming over regulations for the controversial drilling process could underscore the flash points in the coming debate here.

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over that state's "fracking" rules, arguing that regulators are rubber-stamping requests by oil and gas companies to keep secret certain chemicals they inject into the earth to break apart rock and release fossil fuels.

According to Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm representing the environmental groups, Wyoming regulators have approved 50 secrecy claims, allowing companies to withhold information about more than 190 chemicals.

Oral arguments in the case began in Natrona County District Court on Tuesday.

Environmentalists in California have raised similar concerns about Sacramento's proposed rules for fracking.

Draft regulations released by regulators last month would allow companies to file trade secret claims for chemicals they consider to be proprietary. Mark Nechodom, director of the state Department of Conservation, has said that public health and safety will "not be overshadowed by concerns about trade secret protections."

The issue of fracking is particularly potent in Wyoming, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tied the cause of water contamination to fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. The agency's draft report, issued in 2011 but still not finalized, said the best explanation for the pollution was that fluids had migrated up from fracking operations and contaminated an aquifer.

Oil and gas operators there have contested the findings, saying the federal investigators' testing methods may have tainted water samples.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

After fracking debate, state Senate confirms conservation director

The Inglewood Oil Field. After a debate on fracking, the California Senate confirmed the nominee for 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.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: The Inglewood Oil Field in L.A.'s Baldwin Hills. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

California conservation chief faces grilling over fracking

InglewoodOilField

Mark Nechodom, Gov. Jerry Brown's nominee for state conservation chief, won the support of a key Senate committee on Wednesday after a grilling from lawmakers over hydraulic fracturing -- and demands for more safeguards on the controversial drilling process before the upper house considers his final approval next week.

Nechodom, a research scientist by training and former senior adviser on climate change in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, acknowledged the California Conservation Department was late in developing regulations for "fracking," but said the administration was moving forward with proposed rules that would make the state a leader in environmental protection and public health.

He was introduced by his wife, Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

"When I arrived at the department a year ago, fracking had not been given its fair due," Nechodom told lawmakers. "I believe we have righted the ship and we are going in the right direction."

Last month, oil regulators released draft regulations that would require energy companies to disclose for the first time the chemicals they inject deep into the ground to break apart rock and release oil.

Lawmakers, however, seized on a provision in the proposed rules that would allow oil companies to withhold disclosure of chemicals they claim to be proprietary. Nechodom said regulators were trying to strike a balance between public transparency and the state's trade-secrets law, which he noted protects the recipes of products like Coca-Cola.

Legislators pushed back.

"This is not Coca-Cola to me," said state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "How to differentiate the taste of Coca-Cola from Pepsi … is a very different question from whether or not the brew of chemicals that are injected into the ground might affect the health and safety of a community because of water supply contamination."

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said the public deserved more disclosure.

"We want to know the science," she said. "Maybe fracking isn't a bad thing but the fact that we have been kept from knowing what is in this brew has created some real problems for the industry."

Nechodom emphasized that regulators were at the beginning of a rulemaking process that could last more than a year. Disclosure and other issues, including permitting and oversight, will be subject to debate, he said.

Despite the heated questioning from lawmakers, representatives from environmental groups, as well as oil and mining companies, testified in support of Nechodom's confirmation.

Steinberg, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, ultimately offered conditional support and the committee approved the nominee, 5-0. The Democratic leader said he wanted Nechodom to respond to lawmakers' concerns in writing before the full Senate takes up his confirmation on Monday.

"I want written assurance that health and safety trumps all else, including trade secrets," Steinberg said.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: The Inglewood Oil Field in L.A.'s Baldwin Hills. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to "calibrate" environmental rules

JerryBrownEnvironment

An early environmental leader as California's governor nearly four decades ago, Jerry Brown is now easing restrictions for oil companies and talking about overhauling the state's landmark environmental law to boost the economy.

As detailed in The Times, that strain of pragmatism has run throughout Brown's current governorship — and flummoxed many allies — and nowhere is it more apparent than on the issue of the environment.

The actions come as the state forges ahead with an ambitious program to combat global warming by penalizing major polluters and moves to meet a requirement that California get a third of its power from renewable energy sources.

Brown's spokesman, Gil Duran, compared the approach to that of President Obama, who has touted what he calls an "all of the above" energy strategy.

"You have to pursue renewable energy — and California is leading the way — but you also have to have balance and common sense," Duran said.

A key flashpoint this year will be new regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a controversial drilling process that could help unlock billions of barrels of oil buried deep in California shale.

Although recently drafted rules would require energy companies to disclose for the first time what chemicals they pump underground to break apart rock and release crude, the proposed regulations would also allow firms to claim trade secrets and withhold information they consider proprietary.

After the November election, Brown said streamlining the state's regulations would be a top priority for 2013.

"We are going to calibrate our regulations," Brown said, "to ensure that they encourage jobs as well as protect other aspects of public interest such as environment, health and good working conditions."

California issues proposed rules for 'fracking'

Protesters head to Culver City meeting to decry fracking

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown at a news conference. Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times

State fails to coordinate energy programs, audit says

1148848_ME_SolarFuture_03
California has spent $15 billion on more than a dozen programs promoting energy efficiency and alternative energy during the last decade and a half, but lacks a comprehensive framework to properly coordinate the various efforts, a state report concludes.

As a result, there has been program duplication, some agencies are making decisions not aligned with legislative priorities and it is difficult to evaluate whether all programs are effective, according the report by the legislative analyst’s office.

The report found that the return on investment in the state’s energy efficiency spending has declined in recent years. The agency recommended that the Legislature develop a comprehensive strategy for meeting energy efficiency and alternative energy goals.

A group of companies that provide energy efficiency services to the state acknowledged "there is room for improvement" in the coordination of energy efficiency programs, but defended the state’s overall efforts, saying electricity bills here are 14% lower than the rest of the country.

"We look forward to working with the Legislature and the administration to improve funding delivery and oversight so taxpayers receive the most bang for their buck,” said Margie Gardner, executive director of the California Energy Efficiency Industry Council. 

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Court decision a boost for California's budget

Sanchez dances close to "fiscal cliff" on holiday card

More valuable gifts, contributions allowed to politicians in 2013

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Solar panels near Nipton, Calif. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times.

 

Battle expected over disclosure of 'fracking' chemicals

InglewoodOilField
Under pressure from state lawmakers and environmentalists, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration released draft regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the controversial drilling process driving the nation's oil and gas boom.

As The Times reported Wednesday, the proposed rules would require energy companies to disclose for the first time the chemicals they inject deep into the ground to break apart rock and release oil. The companies also would have to reveal the locations of the wells where they use the procedure.

Environmental groups and the energy industry called the draft regulations a good start but signaled that they would do battle in the coming months over the level of disclosure. The proposed rules contain a trade-secret provision that would allow oil companies not to disclose chemicals that they claim are proprietary.

Environmentalists and public health advocates in California have raised safety questions about the hundreds of chemicals used -- many of them known carcinogens -- and fear the trade-secret provision could undermine the intent of the regulations: transparency.

Energy firms and oil field service companies have said the trade-secret clause is necessary to protect their proprietary "recipes."

State regulators are planning three workshops to take public comment on the proposed rules. The documents released Tuesday were labeled "discussion drafts," meaning they do not trigger a formal rule-making process.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

Environmentalists sue California oil regulators over fracking

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: The Inglewood Oil Field in L.A.'s Baldwin Hills. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Fracking will drive oil boom, federal report says

InglewoodOilField
As oil regulators draft rules for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in California, a new federal report underscores the critical role the controversial procedure will play in what energy authorities predict will be a national oil boom.

The federal report, released Wednesday by the Energy Information Administration, projected a sharp rise in U.S. oil production in the coming decades, driven largely by fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand deep into the earth to break apart rock and release crude.

The predicted boom has big implications for California.

The report projected that by 2040 more than half of onshore oil production in the continental United States will come from "tight" oil deposits like California's Monterey Shale -- up from a third last year. Oil companies have been exploring the potential of fracking to tap that oil-rich formation here -- the largest of its kind, running from Northern California to Los Angeles.

The energy industry lauded the findings, saying fracking was critical to the country's economy.

The report "proves that American ingenuity and sensible regulations can unlock hundreds of years of affordable energy supply under our feet, create good-paying jobs, and promote our nation's energy security," said Daniel Kish, senior vice president of the Institute for Energy Research, an industry-backed think tank.

Environmentalists, however, have raised concerns about potential environmental and public health hazards, including contaminated drinking water. Unlike other oil-producing states, California does not have disclosure rules for fracking, meaning companies do not have to report what chemicals they inject or where they employ the procedure.

Several environmental groups in California sued the state this year in an attempt to require more disclosure from oil companies under the California Environmental Quality Act. State lawmakers have also introduced legislation to make reporting mandatory for energy firms.

Regulators have said they plan to release draft regulations for fracking before year's end.

ALSO:

California Senate rejects 'fracking' legislation

Protesters head to Culver City meeting to decry fracking

State officials ask energy firms to disclose 'fracking' sites

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Homes overlook the Inglewood Oil Field. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 

 

 

 

Lawmakers make plans to spend $2.5 billion in new energy funds

Tom SteyerWith the passage of Proposition 39 this fall, California voters set aside $2.5 billion over the next five years for energy efficiency projects. Now, it’s up to the Legislature to spend the money.

On Tuesday, Sen. Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles) and Tom Steyer, who bankrolled the Yes on 39 campaign, will join with political and education leaders asking that a large portion of the new money be spent on schools.

DeLeon will introduce legislation calling for energy retrofits of thousands of public schools, and using money raised from Proposition 39 to pay for the projects. In a brief interview Monday, DeLeon said his bill would provide a boost to the economy by creating thousands of new jobs, update outdated school buildings and reduce districts’ future energy costs.

He said spending the money on schools would show voters that the new money will be spent responsibly.

Proposition 39 will raise an estimated $1 billion per year by changing the way corporate taxes are collected. As part of a budget deal in 2009, corporations were given a choice between two different tax formulas. Proposition 39 eliminated that choice, and created one mandatory formula for corporate taxes.

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Bob Huff reelected as California Senate Republican leader

State's sprint to wind, solar power could trigger crisis, panel warns

— Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Tom Steyer, co-founder of Advance Energy Economy, makes his way to the podium to address the Democratic National Convention back in September. Steyer helped bankroll the Yes on 39 campaign. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

State's sprint to wind, solar power could trigger crisis, panel warns

Ivanpah
As state officials scramble to transition California’s power grid toward more renewable energy, consumers are threatened with being saddled with billions of dollars of unnecessary costs due to poor planning and lack of oversight, a government watchdog concluded in a report released Monday morning.

The Little Hoover Commission, a nonpartisan oversight agency, warns in its report that the state is in danger of making missteps on the scale it did leading up to the electricity crisis during the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis, which resulted in electricity rates skyrocketing. 

The report comes after The Times published several stories this year examining how the state’s renewable energy policies are being implemented in ways costly to consumers  and the environment.

At issue in the report is California’s race to produce a third of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2020, as is required by state law. California has more ambitious renewable energy goals than any other state.

The commission says that while the goals are laudable, the lack of an overarching plan for meeting them in the most efficient and integrated way possible exposes ratepayers and state government to considerable risk. In the frenzy to make its deadline for renewables, the report notes, consumers may have been locked into decades-long contracts with energy producers “at unnecessarily high prices.”

“This sets the stage for a potential ratepayer revolt,” the report said. 

The commission urges Gov. Jerry Brown to take action “to assess how much, in the aggregate, recent major policies related to energy will affect electricity rates and reliability and whether these policies are achieving California’s goals.”

The report also takes aim at the environmental damage being caused by the boom in industrial-scale renewable energy plants, many of which are being built on ecologically sensitive desert properties.

“Without more careful calibration of these policies, Californians may wind up paying more than necessary for electricity and the state may unnecessarily degrade pristine habitat in its rush to implement renewable energy goals,” said a statement from Commission Chairman Daniel Hancock.

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California sees strong October for tax revenue

Federal budget standoff could hurt California economy

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

-- Evan Halper in Sacramento

Photo: Mirrors are positioned at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in California's Ivanpah Valley in August. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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