In the latest sign of Democrats' determination to rein in the disputed extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a California Assembly committee has advanced three bills that would halt the practice in the state for the foreseeable future.
They were not the first fracking bills to make it out of committee this year, but they go further than other fracking legislation by calling for a moratorium to allow more time to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting a mix of chemicals and water deep underground.
Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, for instance, would prohibit the state from issuing new fracking permits only if a study on fracking was not completed by Jan. 1, 2015.
Paul Deiro, a lobbyist testifying Monday before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on behalf of the Western States Petroleum Association, told committee members that other proposals were "far more reasonable than the three moratorium bills you hear today," arguing that there is no evidence that fracking is unsafe.
"The proponents of a moratorium have often said we don't know, we need to collect information and find out," but there are no cases of proven well failure or groundwater contamination in California, Deiro said. He added that a fracking ban would mean that the energy-rich Central Valley "loses the potential of creating millions of jobs."
But Assembly members said they were responding to constituents alarmed that fracking is moving forward in California with seemingly little oversight or regulation.
"It's clear that we must heed the call from our concerned constituents and demand answers about the safety of fracking," said Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of Assembly Bill 1323.
A branch of the state Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized them as too vague and have lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.
"The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. "Public and scientific concerns have increased exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind."
Bloom said a moratorium would offer a needed window for study and would "get everyone to the table" to craft a framework for fracking.
"We must identify the risks and assure the public that we are doing everything in our control to protect them," Bloom said, "but to date the state has failed to do that."
The third fracking bill that passed the committee was AB 649, by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank. It would place restrictions on fracking near an aquifer.
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Follow him on Twitter @jeremybwhite.