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On September 20, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown, signed into law regulations on fracking, acidizing, and other well-stimulation techniques; in the state; all of which had gone unregulated until now. Earthworks initially supported the bill, authored by Senator Fran Pavley, because even though California is the fourth-largest oil producing state in the nation, we lack basic, common sense laws to protect the public from unconventional oil production. We withdrew our support after heavy lobbying by the oil and gas industry led to last-minute amendments, curtailing what the law will accomplish, and how effective it will be at protecting public health and the environment.

Now that SB4 is law, it's time to take stock of where we are. There are several positive aspects of the law. For example:

  • It requires a study of the potential impacts of well stimulation to be completed by the Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by January 1, 2015. The study must include hazards and potential hazards to natural resources and the public, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and the effects on climate change.
  • It establishes a permitting process for any well stimulation technique, including acidizing – the first time this technique is being regulated in the country. All permit applications must include:

    • Water use
    • Waste water disposal
    • Chemical use
    • Where the procedure will take place
    • Groundwater monitoring
  • It obliges full disclosure of all chemicals used in the stimulation process. Although trade secret provisions are allowed, the industry must still reveal what chemicals are being used, even if the volumes are kept secret. This brings California up to the standard of other oil and gas producing states.
  • It does not apply a “gag” rule to health professionals, which may share this information, within limits.
  • It forces disclosure of amounts of water used in a stimulation job, including volume, source, and composition. Additionally, it requires water quality monitoring before and after completion of the stimulation job.
  • A notice of a well stimulation project must be distributed to property owners and all surrounding properties 30 days prior to beginning of work.
  • All information regarding a well stimulation project must be posted on a website created by DOGGR within 60 days. The information will be public record, and reported in a way that will be easy for the public to understand.
  • It requires increased interagency cooperation, including between water and air quality boards, county, and local agencies.

One of the biggest problems with the law is that it rests sole power of developing regulations on DOGGR, an agency that has ignored the dangers of the oil and industry for decades, and has politically appointed members that don’t always answer to the public. It also:

  • Allows the agency to rely upon prior California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documentation to determine if an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) is necessary before issuing permits
  • The head of the agency can rule that CEQA need not apply to oil and gas, mirroring the Halliburton Loophole at the federal level.
  • It allows unrestricted well stimulation to proceed until the permitting process is complete, and the study of potential impacts is finished in January, 2015.

So the question is, what happens now? Legislators are hoping to introduce amendments to the law during the 2014 legislative session that will strengthen it. Environmental groups are remaining active in their call for a statewide moratorium on fracking and acidizing. Initiatives at the local level are taking charge where the state and federal governments have not. Small, but growing, groups of citizens are banding together to protect their health and their environment throughout the state, and calling on elected officials and regulators to do the same.

The County of Santa Cruz recently enacted a moratorium on fracking; the City of Los Angeles, the largest city in California and the second largest city in the United States, is calling for a moratorium on fracking and other well stimulation activities within city limits, which if passed, will send a strong signal to regulators and the industry. There are also movements calling for a moratorium on fracking in other counties, including Ventura and Monterey, while several cities are trying to pass their own regulations, such as Beverly Hills, Culver City, and Ojai.

Recognizing the need to update rules regarding oil and gas drilling, Kern County, the largest oil producing area in the state, has begun the process of preparing a countywide EIR on oil and gas permitting. The EIR will study the impacts of unconventional drilling, as well as the expansion of new drilling activities in the county’s section of the Monterey Shale.

Legislators and other elected have a responsibility to protect the state and its people from irresponsible energy development. If the state won't act, then local governments will. And Californians will take to the streets – this Saturday, October 19 is the Global Frackdown, with events planned across the state.

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