Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D- Marina del Rey) has introduced legislation to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, an oil extraction technique more commonly known as fracking.
The bill, Assembly Bill 972, would ensure that no new fracking would take place in California until the process could be regulated, according to the assemblywoman’s office.
“Fracking has been called ‘inherently dangerous’ according to the oil and gas industry,” said Butler said in a statement. “The fact that oil companies have reservations about the safety of fracking speaks volumes as to why California needs a moratorium until we can regulate.”
The assemblywoman’s proposed legislation comes a week after the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR ) held workshop by on the controversial procedure in Culver City on June 12. A group of anti-fracking advocates demonstrated outside City Hall, where the workshop took place.
DOGGR is the state agency that regulates oil companies in California.
Under current California law, fracking is not regulated or tracked, and it is unclear how extensive the process has been in the state. The moratorium on new wells that utilize the technique is needed to put the brakes on a dangerous practice that has come to the attention of the California public.
“A moratorium on fracking should be enacted until the safety of the public can be guaranteed and we can further evaluate the potential environmental and health impacts of this practice in California,” Butler, who is seeking an Assembly seat in a new district this fall, added.
Two organizations that are advocating a ban on fracking are not convinced that Butler’s bill will alleviate the problems associated with the oil extraction procedure.
“Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and gas poses a severe threat to California’s land, air, and water. Assembly Bill 972 would allow fracking in California, with even the weakest of regulations,” Food & Water Watch and The Citizens Coalition For a Safe Community said in a joint release. “It does not provide any standards, guidelines, or minimum requirements for regulations, and even regulations written by industry would qualify under this bill.”
Crystal Alexander, a member of “Frack Free Culver City,” a group of local residents who favor a ban on fracking, agrees. “Smart regulators such as DOGGR will look for the intent of legislation from the elected officials in Sacramento, and lawyers I know say it's always stronger to include intent as language in the bill, rather than just debate on the record in support of the bill,” Alexander said. “I know that members of Frack Free Culver City, Food & Water Watch and The Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community are ready to assist in crafting legislation to protect communities from fracking.”
According to the Western States Petroleum Association, the oldest nonprofit petroleum trade association in the United States that represents oil companies is six western states, including California, hydraulic fracturing is an energy production technique used to obtain oil and natural gas in areas where those energy supplies are trapped in rock and sand formation.
Once an oil or natural gas well is drilled and properly lined with a steel casing, fluids are pumped down to an isolated portion of the well at pressures high enough to cause cracks in shale formations below the earth's surface, according to the association.
These cracks or fractures allow oil and natural gas to flow more freely. Often, a propping agent such as sand is pumped into the well to keep fractures open.
Earlier this year, the Department of Conservation, which supervises DOGGR, released a set of guidelines that efforts to review and update its decades-old regulations for other types of underground injection.
Last year, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) proposed Assembly Bill 591, which would require oil and gas firms to make public the names of the chemicals by posting them on DOGGR’s website.
But Kassie Siegel is director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute in San Francisco, claimed in an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee earlier this year AB 591 would allow the oil and gas industry to withhold critical information – including what chemicals are used and where fracking is occurring – simply by claiming the information constitutes a “trade secret.”
Hydraulic fracking has become a controversial topic in recent years. The Pulitzer Prize-winning online investigative news site ProPublica published a series of articles last year on the threats to water supplies from this technique and some scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or if fluids are spilled on the surface.
In Pennsylvania, environmental scientist Robert Jackson of Duke University published a study on May 9 of last year online in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences where sampled water from 60 oil wells indicated evidence for natural gas–contamination in those within a kilometer of a new natural gas well.
“DOGGR cannot be dealing with this issue in the black hole of bureaucracy. Frack Free Culver City and its supporters want to see our community lead by example with industry best practices, even if that results in a ban on fracking,” Alexander said. “Legislation that calls for a moratorium with no guidance, standards or minimum requirements given to regulators is dangerous. We must lead with safety first and, if that cannot be accomplished, then a ban must be implemented.”
Inquiries to State Sen. Curren Price (-D- Culver City) and Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D- Culver City) on Butler’s proposed bill were not returned at News press time. Email inquires to California Independent Petroleum Association Executive Director Rock Zierman and to Director of Public Affairs Blair Knox about the bill went unanswered.
The association is a trade organization representing approximately 450 independent crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty owners, and service and supply companies operating in California.