Jerry Brown and California lawmakers come together on fracking bill

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2013 - 10:29 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 - 6:27 am

After intense debate and heavy lobbying from all sides, the state Legislature approved a fracking bill late Wednesday that gained momentum from Gov. Jerry Brown’s public endorsement.

The Assembly passed the measure early in the day, and it cleared the Senate and went to Brown Wednesday night on a 28-8 vote. The governor has a precarious relationship with environmentalists, some of whom accuse him of being overly lenient with the energy industry, but he dispelled any doubt about his intentions by weighing in on the legislation.

“The administration has worked collaboratively with the Legislature to craft a bill that comprehensively addresses potential impacts from fracking, including water and air quality, seismic activity and other potential risks,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email hours after the measure moved through the Assembly.

Westrup called it “an important step forward” and said Brown “looks forward to signing it once it reaches his desk.”

Senate Bill 4 would would erect a permitting system for fracking, which involves shattering underground rock formations with a pressurized cocktail of water and chemicals. The measure also mandates groundwater monitoring and requires fracking firms to notify neighbors of planned wells. Companies also would have to release more information about the chemicals they shoot underground.

Wednesday’s Assembly floor debate offered a microcosm of the opposing forces squeezing the bill. Industry representatives expressed concern about what they deemed its burdensome regulations and trade-secret disclosure mandates. Environmental groups argued the industry has gotten carte blanche to frack with the aid of an ineffective state regulatory agency.

Lawmakers pushing for tighter fracking regulation cited the potential for a drilling boom in California’s Monterey Shale. They faulted the state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources for delays in crafting fracking regulations and for floating anemic guidelines.

Republicans opposing the bill argued that the Legislature should not try to supplant the department’s authority to release regulations, which they called sufficient. They implored their colleagues to reject the measure, which they said would handicap economic development, particularly in the energy-rich Central Valley.

“This bill has been very controversial,” said Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced. “It has been attacked from every side.”

In a late development, numerous environmental groups turned against the bill. Representatives of organizations that included the Natural Resources Defense Council, the California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and the Environmental Working Group said late amendments ceded to the oil and gas department too much authority over whether to subject fracking jobs to meaningful environmental review.

In a statement that gestured at those concerns, the bill’s author, Sen. Fran Pavley, called her bill “an insurance policy.”

“Without SB 4, there will be no public disclosure of chemicals, no groundwater monitoring and no regulation of acidizing, and the oil companies will continue to be able to frack without a permit or any public accountability whatsoever,” the Agoura Hills Democrat said in the statement. “The world won’t be perfect if SB 4 passes, but it will be a whole lot better.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. The Bee’s David Siders contributed to this report.

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