Nation's Toughest Fracking Bill To Be Signed By CA Gov. Jerry Brown

SB 4 passed the legislature over strong objections from the oil and business community. California will go from having no well stimulation (includes acidizing) regulation set in statute to the nation's toughest, so why are environmentalists unhappy?

3 minute read

September 13, 2013, 8:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

California's fracking debate, which we noted here in February, appears to be coming to an end. Marc Lifsher writes that state Senator Fran Pavley's bill, which "would give California the nation's toughest [fracking] regulation...had widespread support from most environmental groups, but some of them withdrew their endorsement just before the Assembly vote Wednesday (Sept. 11)."  

Lifsher's newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, explains why they withdrew their own support for the bill in their Sept. 12 editorial as a result of amendments made on Sept. 6. that are analyzed here.

In recent amendments, the key regulatory element of the bill was so weakened that it is no longer recognizable...[T]he bill now could exclude many fracking projects from meaningful environmental review.  The amendments have led various environmental organizations to withdraw their support. We previously endorsed the bill, and Pavley deserves praise for trying, but at this point SB 4 is so flawed that it would be better to kill it and press for more serious legislation next year.

Lifsher writes that's not likely to happen. "The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who said Wednesday that he would sign it into law." 

While some environmentalists were upset with the recent changes, the oil industry has consistently "opposed the bill, arguing it would make it harder for them to exploit the estimated 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale Formation in the southern San Joaquin Valley" [and the largest shale oil reserves in the nation], writes Lifsher. Their opposition contributed to the defeat of stronger bills that imposed moratoriums, explaining in part why "only Senate Bill 4 remains", writes Capitol Alert's Jeremy B. White.

I still believe that a moratorium is the best way to go with respect to fracking," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, "but this bill is the next best alternative."

Grist blogger, John Upton, writes, "Environmentalists who had cautiously supported the bill, which many described as flawed, have turned into vociferous opponents. The East Bay Express explains":

Last week, after intense backroom lobbying, the powerful oil and gas industry convinced state Senator Fran Pavley of Los Angeles... to further weaken her legislation and include poison-pill amendments. If enacted, it promises to do more harm than good.

The amendments included how the Calif. Environmental Quality Act is applied to well stimulation as interpreted by the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

The Environmental Defense Center did not withdraw their support for the bill, according to the legislative analysis, acknowledging that California "lags far behind other major oil and gas producing states...SB 4 would remedy this unacceptable status quo."

White doesn't appear so certain that Jerry Brown will sign the bill.

The governor has a precarious relationship with environmentalists, some of whom accuse him of being overly lenient with the energy industry, so his decision will come under heavy scrutiny.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 in Los Angeles Times - Business

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