In a hearing conducted today, Senator Fran Pavley’s comprehensive fracking bill, SB 4 (pdf), survived its first test before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. The bill received a favorable 6-2 vote (Democrats Pavley, Evans, Hueso, Jackson, Monning, and Wolk in favor, Republicans Cannella and Fuller opposed) and will now move to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
SB 4, which we have previously summarized (here and here), received support from several witnesses at the hearing, including Supervisor Steve Bennett of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors (link), Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), each of whom testified in support of the bill. Mr. Bennett expressed support for the oil and gas industry and stated that the Board does not wish to stop fracking but is very concerned about water quality in oil-rich Ventura County. Mr. Allayaud acknowledged that EWG had only recently decided to support Senator Pavley’s bill. EWG finds the draft regulations proposed by the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) inadequate, making legislation necessary to control fracking. Mr. Nagami spoke in favor of the independent scientific study contemplated by SB 4, noting that an industry-funded study of fracking in Baldwin Hills suffered from industry bias and suggesting that its results could not be extrapolated to other oilfields in the state. Also expressing support were representatives of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (link), the California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS), the League of Women Voters (LWV), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the Sierra Club (link), Environment California (link), and Clean Water Action (CWA).
Speaking in opposition to SB 4 were representatives of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA). They spoke in favor of allowing DOGGR to continue to develop regulations to govern fracking and expressed concern about SB 4’s permitting process and the potential for the imposition of a moratorium. Also speaking in unexpected opposition to SB 4 was a representative of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), whose opposition focused on the bill’s treatment of medical professionals and their perception that SB 4 does not go far enough to ensure that fracking information will be freely available to doctors. Also opposed to the bill was the California Chamber of Commerce (link).
Several Senators spoke in favor of the bill before the final vote, led by Senators Pavley, Jackson and Monning. Senator Hueso, who voted in favor of the bill, expressed concern that litigation regarding SB 4’s independent study could cause delays that would necessarily result in the imposition of a moratorium. He promised to work with Senatory Pavley on revised language for the bill to ensure that the study is timely completed to protect against a moratorium caused by litigation challenges or other delays in completion of the study. Senator Evans, who voted against the bill, went further, arguing that the only people who suffer if the study is not completed by the January 1, 2015, deadline will be oil and gas drillers, who have no ability to ensure the study’s timely completion. She suggested that it may be more appropriate to punish those charged with completing the study if they fail to meet the deadline.
We will continue to monitor the progress of this and other pending fracking-related bills and provide updates as warranted.