Assembly Committee Approves 'Woefully Inadequate' Fracking Bill

By Dan Bacher | September 1, 2013 | The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 12-5 on Friday, August 30 to approve a weak fra...

By Dan Bacher | September 1, 2013 |

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 12-5 on Friday, August 30 to approve a weak fracking bill, Senate Bill 4 , strongly opposed by over 100 groups that are calling for an immediate moratorium on the environmentally destructive oil extraction method. 

The passage of the controversial bill, sponsored by Senator Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, clears the way for the full Assembly to approve regulations for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), acidizing and other unregulated oilfield practices, according to a news release from Pavley's Office. 

The weak bill was the only fracking legislation to pass through the Legislature's Committees. Other bills, including one calling for a moratorium on fracking in California, were defeated under intense pressure by the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento. The bill was weakened during the legislative process because of pressure from the oil industry and pro-Big Oil lawmakers. 

Ironically, in one of the greatest conflicts of interest in California history Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged "marine protected areas" in Southern California. Senator Pavley, the author of the fracking bill, was a big supporter of the oil industry lobbyist-overseen MLPA Initiative. 

These questionable "marine protected areas," falsely described by corporate "environmental" NGOs and state officials as "Yosemites of the Sea" and "underwater parks," fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling and spills, pollution, wind and wave energy projects, military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering. 

While California is often portrayed by the mainstream media as a "green" state and an "environmental model" for the nation, the reality is much different. Unlike at least 14 petroleum producing states including Texas and Wyoming, California does not currently regulate fracking. 

Fracking involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rock formations and free up oil and gas - with disastrous results for groundwater supplies and fish and wildlife populations. The state also lacks regulations for "acidizing," the use of hydrofluoric acid and other corrosive acids to dissolve shale rock. 

Oil companies have predicted that acidizing could be the primary tool for accessing the Monterey Shale, the nation’s largest shale oil deposit with an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This oil is located both offshore, in and near the MLPA Initiative's so-called "marine protected areas," and onshore in Kern County and coastal areas. 

Fracking has already been conducted at least 12 times already in California ocean waters in the Santa Barbara Channel, due to the lack of oversight by state and federal regulators - and their cozy relationship with the oil industry. 

What would the legislation do? "SB 4 would require permits for fracking, acidizing and other oil well stimulation practices," according to Pavley's office. "It would require notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study. The study would evaluate potential risks such as groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat." 

“This bill will address serious unanswered questions about the safety and environmental risks of fracking and acidizing,” Senator Pavley said. “California needs strict regulations to hold the oil industry accountable for the true costs of its activities." 

Pavley's bill gives the green light to expand fracking 

However, anti-fracking activists strongly oppose Pavley's "green light for fracking" bill. A broad coalition of environmental, health and progressive groups released a letter on Wednesday, August 28 calling SB 4's regulations "insufficient" and demanding that Governor Jerry Brown immediately impose a moratorium on fracking in California. 

More than 100 groups, including CREDO, Food and Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity,, California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), Environmental Protection Information Center, Butte Environmental Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, signed the letter. 

"The fight to protect California from fracking has reached a critical juncture," the letter stated. "But Senate Bill 4's effort to fill the legislative void on this dangerous practice is insufficient to protect our state, our people and our climate from the myriad dangers posed by fracking." 

The majority of Californians support a moratorium on fracking - not weak regulations giving a green light to fracking. A University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll in June found that 58 percent of California voters favor a moratorium on fracking. 

Fracking opponents described Pavley's legislation as "woefully inadequate," "faulty," and "weak" - and argue that the bill will actually allow the oil industry to expand fracking in Kern County and coastal areas. 

"SB4 is woefully inadequate in addressing the threat that fracking poses to Californians' air, water, health and highly valued industries like agriculture and tourism," said Food & Water Watch California Campaign Director Adam Scow. "If we attempt to fill the legislative void with a faulty bill, we're essentially paving the way for fracking and other disastrous extraction methods. Instead of quibbling over the details of SB4, the conversation needs to focus around the reasons we need Governor Brown to issue a moratorium on fracking as soon as possible." 

"It's a sad day when we have to protest what was supposed to be an environmental bill, but SB 4 simply won't protect us or our water from the dangers of fracking," said Becky Bond, CREDO's Political Director. "This weak bill will allow the fracking industry to massively ramp up fracking in California. What we need is a ban on fracking." 

"Gov. Brown and state lawmakers need to halt fracking now to protect California's efforts to fight climate change," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "When it comes to climate, there's just no safe way to frack our state's dirty oil deposits. If we're going to preserve a livable future for our children, we need a moratorium on this inherently dangerous process." 

You can read the full letter, along with all the groups signing on in support, here: 

In related news, the Los Angeles City Council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved a resolution endorsing Senate Bill 4. The resolution will be considered by the City Council on Tuesday. 

Background: Ocean fracking is no surprise 

The California Coastal Commission and other state officials recently expressed "surprise" after they read an Associated Press report documenting that at least 12 fracking operations have been conducted in the Santa Barbara Channel in recent years. Under pressure from legislators, they called for an investigation into fracking operations off the California coast. 

However, the failure of the state and federal governments to stop or even regulate the environmentally destructive practice of fracking in California's ocean waters is no surprise to those of us familar with the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. 

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the same lobbyist now pushing fracking in California, apparently used her role as a state marine “protection” official to increase her network of influence in California politics to the point where the Western States Petroleum Association has become the most powerful corporate lobby in California. The association now has enormous influence over both state and federal regulators – and MLPA Initiative advocates helped facilitate her rise to power. (

Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009. 

The association spent the most of any organization in first six months of 2013, $2,308,789.95, to lobby legislators and other state officials, according to documents filed with the California Secretary of State. 

When the oil industry wields this much power - and an oil industry lobbyist oversaw the process that was supposed to "protect" the ocean - it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that California's ocean waters are now being "fracked." Both the state and federal regulators have completely failed in their duty to protect our ocean, bays, rivers and Delta. 

At the same time, Governor Jerry Brown, a strong supporter of the oil industry, is fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels will be used to export massive quantities of water to corporate agribusiness interests and oil companies seeking to expand fracking operations in Kern County and coastal areas. The construction of the tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. 

Fracking photo courtesy of California Department of Conservation.

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