By Gary Lasky
The oil and gas industry in California is essentially without adult supervision. Existing regulations are either drafted by, or approved in advance by, the oil industry. This status quo may be changing due to the new fracking activism.
Last year, 2012, saw the California Department of Conservation announce that fracking will be regulated for the first time since it began in the 1950s. Other “well stimulation” techniques need to be addressed, as well, including the injection of hydrofluoric acid.
The Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), responsible for oversight of California oil production, responded to public pressure by launching a 10-city “listening tour.” Eighty activists attended the Sacramento meeting to deliver public comment. The formula for this success? Good oldfashioned organizing. Clean Water Action and Food & Water Watch organized a rally and commissioned “Don’t Frack With California” Tshirts. We’ve gone on to organize Californians Against Fracking, with more than 100 organizations.
The draft regulations have been slow to appear and are still being revised. Meanwhile, the battle has shifted to the legislative arena. Continued alarm by the public and news from Pennsylvania, Texas and other states where fracking has turned communities upside down has revealed the harm that fracking booms bring, including damage to air and water quality, property values and the peace and quiet that draws people to rural regions.
In January, the film Promised Land was released, depicting the natural gas industry’s efforts to move into and co-opt a fictional Pennsylvania town. Matt Damon starred as a smooth-talking salesperson from Texas who learned, as the film, progressed, of the harm caused by fracking.
By February, the California legislature had 10 fracking bills introduced, including three demanding a moratorium. Only two survive. The best of these is SB 4 from environmental hero Fran Pavley of Santa Monica; pressure from the oil industry killed the others in the Assembly Appropriations Committee or on the Assembly floor.
SB 4 would require the DOGGR to regulate fracking, as well as other well stimulation methods, and to perform numerous responsibilities associated with regulatory duty, including the following:
- Requires regulations by Jan. 1, 2015, to cover well construction, groundwater protection, disclosure of chemicals and the total volume used in fracking and other well stimulation. Also required is well location, air and groundwater quality monitoring, and an estimate of total water quantity used.
- Requires an independent scientific study into the effects of fracking and other well stimulation methods.
- Establishes a hydraulic fracturing permit system.
- Requires annual reporting to the legislature, including well failure data, number of spills and inspections.
- Requires notification of property owners within 1,500 feet of the wellhead or within 500 feet of the extent of underground horizontal fracking no less than 30 days before fracking.
- Requires disclosure of chemical content of all hydraulic fracturing fluids to the DOGGR, including those covered under “trade secrets,” but not the amounts.
Gary Lasky is an environmental and community activist in Fresno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-790-3495.