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Fracking war: Sierra Club says bill not good enough

August 21, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • A bill in the state Legislature would regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil from the ground. Above, a worker in a potato field near a Kern County fracking site.
A bill in the state Legislature would regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing… (Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento…)

SACRAMENTO -- Environmental and liberal activist groups are split over a pending pioneering bill that would regulate the controversial oil-extraction technique known as fracking.

Legislation by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would, for the first time in the nation, require oil companies to disclose details of the chemicals, locations and procedures involved with hydraulic fracturing and related "well-stimulation" activities. The bill also would require that well sites be permitted and that the state conduct a scientific study of hydraulic fracturing, among other things.

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In fracking, large quantities of water and sand as well as various chemicals are injected to free up oil and natural gas locked deep underground in shale formations. Another extraction method uses acid-solution injections to release the hydrocarbons.

Most environmental groups in testimony Wednesday before the Assembly Appropriations Committee backed Pavley. But the Sierra Club said it opposed the bill, arguing that it doesn't give the public enough information to protect water and air from potential contamination.

Two liberal activist groups, Credo and MoveOn, have publicly denounced the Pavley bill as "weak" and are calling for a ban on fracking.

Pavley countered that her bill "simply would provide a lot more public transparency and regulatory disclosure than currently exists."

The bill, SB 4, was passed by the Senate this year and is awaiting a vote in the Appropriations Committee, which put off a decision for two weeks.

But first the committee took extensive testimony on the proposal. Representatives of the oil industry supported the need for new government regulation but expressed reservations that SB 4 was overly broad and had been extended to include acid injection.

The bill "goes well beyond hydraulic fracturing," said Paul Deiro, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Assn.

Deiro was joined in opposition by an unsusal ally, Kathryn Phillips, California director for the Sierra Club.

It's not enough, she said, to make public a list of the names and quantities of chemicals injected in the ground. The public also needs to know the relative concentrations of those chemicals, which is not required by the current version of the Pavley bill.

"My members need to have access to that information."

Pavley and committee members cautioned environmental and other critics from pushing too hard for the strongest possible bill. They noted that criticism from industry and lawmakers forced them to drop a provision from the bill that would have put a moratorium on fracking.

"I want to make sure we have a bill requiring disclosure that can pass the Legislature and get a signature," Pavley said.

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California lawmakers call for review of offshore fracking

Whittier oil drilling rankles opponents

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