On April 29, 2013, the California Assembly Committee on Natural Resources conducted a hearing on three proposed bills that would regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state. The bills — AB 649 (pdf), AB 1301 (pdf), and AB 1323 (pdf) — each of which would have the effect of imposing a moratorium on fracking, were approved by the Committee and passed to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. (Our summary of proposed fracking legislation in California, including the three bills that were the subject of today’s hearing, may be found here.)
Not surprisingly, the votes on the three bills were split on party lines. Each bill passed on identical 5-3 votes, with Democrats Wesley Chesbro, Al Muratsuchi, Nancy Skinner, Mark Stone, and Das Williams casting supporting votes. Republicans Shannon Grove, Franklin Bigelow, and Jim Patterson opposed the bills.
Interest in the hearing was high, with a large group in support of the bills in attendance. Chairman Chesbro indicated that as many as 60 people had signed in to speak in support of the legislation. While many of the speakers were private citizens, the usual interest groups attended and spoke in support of or in opposition to the bills. Among the supporters were representatives of Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food and Water Watch, Environment California, the Butte Environmental Council, and the Association of Californians Who Drink Water, the last of which drew good-natured laughter and applause when it was identified. Opposing the bills were the Western States Petroleum Association, the California Independent Petroleum Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, and the California League of Food Processors.
The most interesting exchange of the lengthy hearing occurred between Assembly Member Grove, whose 34th District includes large portions of oil-rich Kern County, and Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, an outspoken opponent of fracking. Testifying in support of AB 1301, Ms. Siegel described extensive groundwater contamination ostensibly caused by fracking. Assembly Member Grove requested support for that claim, and complained strenuously when Ms. Siegel stated that she did not have a copy of the supporting study prepared by Pro Publica. Later, in discussions on AB 649, Assembly Member Grove stated that she had located on CBD’s website the Pro Publica study to which Ms. Siegel had referred. She noted, however, that the study did not describe fracking-related groundwater contamination, as Ms. Siegel had indicated. Instead, the study described “1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011.” Ms. Siegel responded that she was referring to an earlier Pro Publica study from 2008. In the end, no clear resolution was reached and the tension was defused as the Chair moved the matter to a vote.
Today’s vote means that each of the pending fracking bills to reach a committee vote thus far has survived. We previously reported that Senator Fran Pavley’s fracking bill, SB 4 (pdf), received a favorable 6-2 vote in an April 9 hearing before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. Four Assembly bills — AB 7 (pdf), AB 288 (pdf), AB 669 (pdf), and AB 982 (pdf) — survived votes in an April 15 hearing before the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.