California fracking bill signed, inspires strong controversy

Sep 27, 2013

—Opposing sides differ on the existence of evidence of harm.

California is known for its environmentalist bent and for its abundance of political turmoil. In an effort to clarify the state’s previously ambiguous legal position on oil and gas extraction, a new bill might have caused more upset than it solved problems.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to provide guidance on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is popularly called, for the Golden State. However, even in his signing message, Gov. Brown said the bill needed work.

“I am signing Senate Bill 4, which establishes environmental protections and transparency requirements for hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation operations,” he wrote.

“The bill needs some clarifying amendments and I will work with the author in making those changes next year.”

The bill—SB 4, Oil and Gas: well stimulation—was signed Sept. 20 after having been introduced and worked on for over nine months. Among other things, it provides for legal definitions relating to oil and gas exploration and extraction, requirements for permitting and fees for operation, and requirements for health and environmental impact surveys.

This latter detail involves a lot of controversy for many.

The bill itself points out “insufficient information is available” to scientifically determine the “environmental, occupational, and public health hazards and risks” of fracking. It mandates that, on or before Jan. 1, 2015, an independent scientific study on the potential risks must be completed.

But opponents claim that sufficient evidence about the harm of fracking not only already exists, but that it supports nothing less than an all-out ban on the practice in California. A coalition of 100 different groups signed a letter to Gov. Brown insisting that fracking is inherently dangerous and anything short of a ban is “reckless and unacceptable.”

“The truth is that there is no proven way to protect California from fracking besides prohibiting this inherently dangerous practice. Regulations won’t stop the fracking industry from poisoning our air, water and soil, or from jeopardizing our climate with carbon and methane pollution. And disposal of fracking waste water in injection wells will continue to increase seismic risks in our earthquake-prone state,” the letter read.

The letter however cited nothing beyond public opinion polls and begging-thequestion appeals to the alleged truth of their position as evidence.

It was unclear what Gov. Brown meant by “clarifying amendments,” but the matter is expected to be a flashpoint of political attention in California in the coming political seasons. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor