a no-fracking sign
cyenobite

Could California put a halt to fracking? Some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would do just that.

On Monday, the state Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee approved no fewer than three bills calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until its environmental and health effects are thoroughly studied by the state. Meanwhile, another bill pending in the state Senate would allow fracking to continue for now but would impose a moratorium if the state fails to complete a comprehensive review by January 2015.

David Roberts recently offered a list of reasons why a California fracking frenzy is a bad idea, one of which is the lack of oversight from state regulators so far. The new proposed bills aim to address this problem. From The Sacramento Bee:

A branch of the Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized the proposed rules as too vague and lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.

“The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. “Public and scientific concerns have increased exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind.”

It’s not just greens who want to keep their state frack-free. California’s powerful agricultural interests are also calling for more regulation and oversight, given the threat this water-intensive and water-polluting process poses to crops. And considering the growing evidence that fracking can cause earthquakes, every citizen of this already seismically unstable state has reason to be concerned.

The state’s fracking fight is centered around the Monterey Shale in Southern California, which holds two-thirds of the country’s estimated oil reserves. Production there had been dwindling until the recent rise of fracking and horizontal drilling made hard-to-reach reserves accessible, and now oil companies are chomping at the bit. From a February New York Times article:

For decades, oilmen have been unable to extricate the Monterey Shale’s crude because of its complex geological formation, which makes extraction quite expensive. But as the oil industry’s technological advances succeed in unlocking oil from increasingly difficult locations, there is heady talk that California could be in store for a new oil boom.

Established companies are expanding into the Monterey Shale, while newcomers are opening offices in Bakersfield, the capital of California’s oil industry, about 40 miles east of here. With oil prices remaining high, landmen are buying up leases on federal land, sometimes bidding more than a thousand dollars an acre in auctions that used to fetch the minimum of $2.

A federal judge recently ruled that the federal Bureau of Land Management acted illegally in issuing such leases on two tracts of land in central California. He didn’t invalidate the leases, but temporarily barred drilling until environmental impacts can be weighed.

If a bill to ban fracking actually passes the California legislature, environmental groups wouldn’t have to sue the BLM on a case-by-case basis to halt fracking.

But a fracking moratorium failed in the state legislature last year. Will it have more success this time around? Stay tuned.