Editorial: Legislature should approve fracking regulation

Published: Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am

Californians own nearly 32 million vehicles. Yet more than half the petroleum consumed in California comes from foreign lands, primarily the Middle East.

That must change, but in an environmentally sound manner.

Legislation by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, would allow the oil extraction technique known as fracking to continue, but with strict regulations.

The oil industry is objecting, as are some environmental groups including the Sierra Club, which wants a total ban, not regulation. But other environmentalists see the wisdom of Senate Bill 4. The bill would impose a level of scrutiny found in no other state. As the Legislature wraps up for 2013, approval of SB 4 should be a high priority.

There are good reasons to be concerned about the impact of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking uses huge volumes of water, and California has a limited supply compared to fracking states such as Pennsylvania. Although fracking in California would take place at depths far below aquifers used for drinking water, we all know that well casings can crack, resulting in contamination.

The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources is working on regulations. The legislation by Pavley and Gray would expand the state’s oversight role significantly.

The bill would require completion of a statewide environmental impact report and streamlined California Environmental Quality Act review of fracking projects.

Neighboring landowners would receive notice that fracking is taking place. There would be public disclosure of the chemicals used, and of the amount of fluid and pressure employed to fracture underground rock to extract oil. There also would be groundwater monitoring and sampling.

The bill would apply to all forms of well stimulation, including acidification, which entails injecting acid into wells to create channels through which oil and gas can flow.

No other state imposes such scrutiny to fracking. Nor does Uncle Sam. In 2005, Congress approved the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts fracking from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, the Legislature’s staff analysis of the bill notes.

Fracking now takes place primarily in Kern County, but the practice likely will become more widespread. The Monterey Shale Formation covers 1,750 square miles running the length of the center of the state. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that the Monterey Shale contains more than 15 billion barrels of oil, two-thirds of the shale-oil reserve in the United States.

California needs to continually embrace alternatives to fossil fuels, but it also should attempt to be less dependent on oil from the Middle East and nations such as Venezuela and Ecuador. In 1992, California produced half the oil it needed, Alaska provided 45 percent, and foreign sources accounted for 5 percent. By 2012, California produced less than 37 percent of the petroleum consumed in this state, and foreign sources accounted for almost 51 percent.

By shunning fracking, Californians would continue to offshore the damage done by oil drilling even as we remain a state heavily dependent on gasoline-powered cars.

The use of petroleum won’t end any time soon. California policymakers can help provide a bridge by allowing safe extraction of old fuel, while continuing to encourage alternative fuel. Lawmakers should not let the opportunity pass.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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