The Fracking Fracking Debate

 photo battlestar-fracking_zps16978822.jpgPavley Bill splits environmental community

by Brian Leubitz

Yes, I went with the Battelstar Galactica reference, but with the melee that is currently surrounding fracking legislation in the California legislature, battle is a good term. So, let’s start with the baseline: SB 4, Sen. Pavley’s legislation does not currenty include a moratorium on the environmentally questionable (!) practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The next four weeks will determine how aggressively California regulates the controversial oil-drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing. And as state Sen. Fran Pavley points out, “four weeks is a long time, legislatively.”

The energy industry is watching these developments closely and with a degree of apprehension.

Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has spent the summer engaged in negotiations with the governor’s office, energy industry and environmental groups. She’s the prime sponsor of SB 4, a bill that would tighten how California regulates hydraulic fracturing and how much public information drillers would have to provide about their activities. (Scott Detrow / KQED)

The debate over the moratorium has meant that there are environmentalists on both sides of the bill. However, in many ways it boils down to an issue of tactics, but I welcome any opinions that differ with me about this. Pavley’s bill is better than the status quo, but it doesn’t get the state to the total ban where it should be in the short term until it is totally clear that this process is safe. That data just isn’t there at this point, and with the data connecting fracking and earthquakes, safety seems to be in the background for the frackers.

So if SB 4 passes, and puts a few limits and regulations on hydraulic fracturing, the big question is whether there will be momentum for another major piece of legislation in the future. It is the ongoing legislative conundrum of wait for the perfect or take what you can get. Clean Water Action supports the measure (PDF), but Credo, MoveOn and other groups are looking to kill the bill unless it includes a moratorium. In related news, the California Democratic Party are on the record as supporting a moratorium. However, the party hasn’t specifically said anything about the current debate.

The bill will likely move forward within the next few weeks, but CREDO and others are calling for the bill to be shelved if there is no moratorium. We’ll know pretty soon which way this fight will go.

UPDATE: Lauren Steiner has an excellent post at CommonDreams about why SB 4 is worse than no regulation at all. Here is an emotionally powerful quote on her reasoning:

Instead, the flawed bill sets up a process for notification, disclosure, monitoring and permitting and simply calls for future regulations by other agencies and a scientific study.

Telling someone when you’re going to frack, where you’re going to frack and what chemicals you will use, is like a murderer telling you he’s going to shoot you on your front porch at noon tomorrow using an AK-47.

At the end of the day, you’re still dead.

Read the full post for a more full perspective from the perspective of environmentalists seeking to block SB 4.

One thought on “The Fracking Fracking Debate”

  1. On the policy side, proponents of SB4 overlook an important point: California will be fracked for oil, not natural gas; we already know, thanks to work by CARB, that some of the California oil is the most carbon-intensive on the planet – yes, dirtier than the Canadian tarsands – and we already know how extracting and burning that oil exacerbates climate change.

    We already know that burning California’s easily-available-by-fracking 15.5 billion barrels of oil puts 6.45 gigatons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere (do the math on an EPA website calculator, or read my work), which is roughly comparable to the Keystone XL pipeline – each is a little more than 1% of the total carbon budget the planet needs to stick to.

    AB32 was studied for seven years before implementation.

    We can study the local land and water use, but the climate studies are clear.

    On the political side, I’d rather have a lot of angry activists with a determination to get things done than I would have a study bill and a sense of the legislature that they’ve passed SB4 so they can go back to ignoring fracking for another 10 years as rising seas creep ever closer to Sacramento and Stockton and Huntington Beach and Palo Alto.

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