Mitchell fails again to garner support for fracking moratorium

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State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D- Culver City) was unsuccessful for the second time to obtain a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing after her proposed legislation died in the state Senate on May 28.

Senate Bill 1132 would have halted hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in California until further scientific studies on the controversial oil extraction procedure can be done.

Hydraulic fracturing is an oil extraction technique that is used to obtain oil and natural gas in areas where those energy supplies are trapped in rock and sand formation by injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into the ground. It is employed throughout the United States, although some states have outlawed its practice.

SB 1132 needed 21 votes to move it to the Assembly for consideration, but a group of Democratic senators chose to abstain while others voted against Mitchell’s bill.

Culver City resident J.E. Brockman, one of the city’s most outspoken anti-fracking advocates, was disappointed that Mitchell’s colleagues did not support her legislation. “Two-thirds of Californians are in favor of a moratorium, but apparently that wasn’t enough for our politicians,” she lamented. “[We need to] continue to educate the public and politicians about what fracking will do to our health, our property values, our air and scarce water? and the real facts about where the jobs will be coming from: renewable energy.”

“Despite polls showing a majority of Californians in favor of banning fracking, today the California Senate failed to pass SB 1132 to place a moratorium on fracking,” Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition formed to combat the oil extraction method, said in a statement after SB1132 was defeated.  “The vote is disappointing but not completely unexpected given that the oil industry has spent a whopping $15 million on lobbying activities to defeat the bill and buy influence in Sacramento.”

The state Department of Conservation released regulations on hydraulic fracturing last year.

In 2012, Mitchell, then assemblywoman, co-sponsored with then- Assemblywoman Betsy Butler Assembly Bill 1323, another bill that would have put a hold on fracking.  It also failed to pass the Legislature.

Rebecca Rona-Tuttle, who has also been active in the anti-fracking campaign locally, thinks the bill would have eventually run into trouble even if it had passed the Senate and ultimately the entire Legislature.

“It’s really the governor who has to be behind a moratorium,” said Rona-Tuttle, a long-time Culver City resident. “Even if a moratorium had been passed, I think a lot of people assumed the governor would have vetoed it.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has said that he supports some level of fracking in the Monterey Shale, signed Senate Bill 4 last year that requires oil companies to obtain permits for fracking as well as acidizing and the use of hydrofluoric acid in hydraulic fracturing.

SB 4, which was sponsored by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), also requires oil companies to disclose the chemicals that they are using during hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation procedures and notification of neighbors.  Environmentalists decried the bill as not going far enough to curtail fracking because a proposed moratorium was removed.

Brown has faced the ire of anti-fracking organizations and was booed at an earlier appearance at the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in March.

Some organizations said the proposed moratorium could have hampered the state’s ability to wean its citizens off of foreign- supplied oil as well as develop new energy sources.

“The defeat of SB 1132 is good news for California’s energy independence. Limiting oil production in California would jeopardize thousands of jobs, hurt our energy future and could increase prices at the pump,” said Sabrina Lockhart, thecommunications director for Californians for a Safe, Secure Energy Future.

An executive from one of the state’s most influential oil and gas trade associations said without a statewide moratorium on fracking, it and other interested parties can begin to work toward fully fleshing out existing oil-related regulations.

“[Today’s]  defeat of Senate Bill 1132, legislation that would have imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation technologies, clears a path for a concerted and collaborative effort to fully implement new statewide regulations embodied in Senate Bill 4,” said Western States Petroleum Assn. President Catherine Reheis-Boyd.“The SB 4 regulations put into place a robust set of monitoring, disclosure, testing, land use and research requirements that ensure hydraulic fracturing in California is conducted safely and without harm to the environment.

“But there is still much to be done to finalize these new regulations and the petroleum industry is going to be a constructive partner in getting them accomplished.”

Lockhart disputed claims that the oil industry money influenced certain legislators’ votes.

“Those claims from critics are unfounded. California already has the toughest oil production regulations in the nation and the state can move forward with those strong safeguards,” Lockhart countered. “Newspaper editorial boards from across the state agreed there is no reason to abandon the protections the state already enacted under SB 4.”

Organizations opposed to hydraulic fracturing have implored local leaders to institute a municipal moratorium, even though fracking is not being done in Culver City and only 10 percent of the oil wells in the nearby Inglewood Oilfield in Baldwin Hills are within Culver City’s boundaries.

Brockman said anti-hydraulic fracturing activists should continue to pursue city councils with enacting local moratoriums.

“We should work to aid the city of Los Angeles in passing their moratorium, putting immense pressure for a moratorium on our oily county politicians,” she asserted.

Councilman Jeffery Cooper said in a previous interview that a local moratorium might become feasible if no action is taken at the state level.

“I don’t want to wait a long time, but if [the state] delays acting on this, I might reconsider,” he said last month.

Asked recently about the defeat of SB 1132 and his previous statements, Cooper said he wasn’t surprised that the proposed moratorium failed. But he does think a local moratorium is still in play.

“I would still like to see what our staff recommends regarding a moratorium on fracking,” Cooper said. “I definitely open to considering it.”

Rona-Tuttle isn’t sure that a local moratorium is the best way to pursue a temporary or permanent ban on fracking, underscoring the variety of views on this contentious topic. “Practically speaking, we could open ourselves up to a very expensive lawsuit, and we would ultimately not gain anything,” she noted.

Reheis-Boyd pointed out that fracking is already underway in California and how the controversial oil technique is providing much needed employment to many regions of California.

“As Gov. Brown has noted, close to a third of the new wells drilled in California are hydraulically fractured as a way to improve their productivity.  These wells are an important part of California’s ongoing, conventional oil production that supplies 37% of our daily petroleum needs,” she said.  “The more than 100,000 men and women directly employed in oil production and transportation in California appreciate the Legislature’s support for the work they do and welcome the opportunity to move forward under the guidance of SB 4 regulations.”

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