Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will continue in California for the foreseeable future as three moratorium bills pending in the Assembly — AB 649, AB 1301, and AB 1323 — recently went down to defeat.
While each bill differed in its particulars, the practical effect of each would have been to impose a moratorium on fracking activity in the state pending the satisfaction of certain conditions. AB 649 would have halted all fracking within 4,000 feet of schools, homes, public buildings, surface waters, underground potable waters, or other sensitive resources, pending completion of a study on the potential environmental impacts of fracking, with an ultimate decision on further fracking to be made by January 1, 2019. AB 1301 would have imposed a broad moratorium on all fracking in the state, until such time as the legislature determined whether and under what conditions fracking could be conducted in the state, with no particular timeline for such legislative action. Finally, early versions of AB 1323 would have stopped all fracking pending completion of a study similar to AB 649, but without the proximity limiter of that bill.
On May 24, 2013, the Assembly Appropriations Committee held AB 649 and AB 1301 under submission, effectively killing them for the current legislative session. On the same day, AB 1323 passed on a 12-5 vote, but was unlikely to survive a vote of the full Assembly in the bill’s then-current state. Thus, the bill was amended significantly on May 28 in hopes of being adopted. In its amended form, AB 1323 would have imposed a moratorium on fracking until the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) enacts a set of regulations specific to fracking. Given that DOGGR is actively developing those regulations currently, the scaled-back moratorium would have been of much shorter duration than that contemplated by the originally-proposed language of AB 1323. The amendment failed to sway a significant portion of the full Assembly, however, and AB 1323 ultimately failed on a 24-37 vote on the Assembly floor.
With the defeat of these Assembly bills, there are no bills currently pending in the legislature that would impose an immediate moratorium on fracking. The lead bill now pending in the Senate — SB 4 — would, among other things, create a permitting system for fracking and would require the completion of a study on the impacts of fracking by January 1, 2015. If that study is not completed by the deadline, the bill would prohibit the issuance of any new fracking permits, effectively imposing a moratorium on further fracking activity. But for the present, fracking continues to be a lawful method of oil well stimulation.