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Why Environmentalists Hate California's First Law Regulating Fracking

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"Monterey shale is exposed in sea cliffs above the Pacific on approach to Santa Barbara. The brown dirt on top is an old marine terrace." (Photo by dsearls via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Governor Jerry Brown signed California's first law regulating the controversial practices of fracking and acidizing.

Oil companies aren't happy with the law that goes into effect January 1, 2014 but neither are environmentalists who say that the bill is too watered-down to do much good. The issue has come to a head in California now that oil companies have their eye on a massively lucrative project: the Monterey Shale deposits contain an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. The governor supports the project.

Until now, most fracking and acidizing projects in California were much smaller in scale, although some investigations hint that many smaller projects have been going on without the public's knowledge. Several off-shore fracking were happening off the coast of Santa Barbara, but this wasn't public knowledge until very recently. And oil companies have already begun fracking closer to home in the Inglewood Oil Fields.

Fracking has been controversial, because of concerns that chemicals from the process are poisoning drinking water and even cause earthquake swarms. The process of acidizing, which is expected to be more effective on the Monterey Shale, has flown under the radar.

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Here are a few facts about California's new law:

  • It does NOT impose a moratorium on fracking or acidizing. An earlier version of the bill included a moratorium and it faced an uphill battle, but environmentalists and even the Los Angeles Times withdrew their support from the bill once this provision was removed. Los Angeles is considering a moratorium on fracking, and on the east coast New York has instituted one.
  • Neighbors have to be notified that fracking or acidizing is going on nearby and what chemicals are being used. Oil companies have to conduct independent scientific studies of the groundwater and air. Sen. Pavely told Reuters it was a "first step toward greater transparency, accountability and protection of the public and the environment." The Los Angeles Times called these provisions "worthwhile" (even as it recommending scrapping the entire bill).
  • The state has to complete a report by 2015 demonstrating how fracking and acidizing could affect the state's environment overall. In the meantime, the state can approve permits for both practices starting January 1, 2014. The Times editorial board is concerned about this timeline: it worries that some projects could be approved in the upcoming year without meaningful review. If the state's report does finds serious concerns about acidizing or fracking, the governor may find his hands tied to do anything about it, such as issuing a moratorium.
  • Related:
    Los Angeles Considers A Ban On Fracking
    Legislators Are Freaking Out About Oil Companies' Offshore Fracking: 'We Are In The Dark'