Under pressure from Earthjustice and others, senators seek to rein practice in
An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted near almond orchards in the Central Valley town of Shafter, CA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)See photo essay »
As reported in the current issue of Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, oil fracking has become big news in California, where the practice is conducted in the shadows and is essentially unregulated—the Wild Wild West, if you will. (See: Extreme Energy: Out of Control Out West)
That may be about to change.
At least 10 bills have been introduced in the state legislature since the Magazine came out; three would impose moratoriums to halt fracking until regulations can be put in effect. Others would require disclosure of the chemicals being used, mandate groundwater monitoring before and after fracking operations, and classify wastewater from the fracking process as hazardous waste. A state-court lawsuit by Earthjustice is working its way through the system, and a federal court just ruled that failure by the Bureau of Land Management to study the environmental impact of fracking is illegal—but the judge declined to rescind the permits, so the practice continues.
Of the bills pending in Sacramento, Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said:
It’s a huge improvement. Last year, there were a few bills introduced; they went nowhere. The year before, nothing. This year, all of a sudden, there’s great interest. No one knows how many of these bills will make it to the governor’s desk—or if he’ll sign them—but there’s hope that we’ll get something better than the status quo.
The governor, Jerry Brown, seems to have turned from environmental leader to a cheerleader for oil and gas. He fired two officials who had tried to bring some control over fracking and replaced them with fracking proponents. And he’s leading a campaign to revise the state’s principle environmental law, though Torgun says that effort seems to be losing steam.
Meanwhile, an official in the state’s Conservation Department told Bloomberg that the shale formation containing the oil the frackers want to get at may be too difficult to exploit economically. Torgun replies that industry continues to experiment with new methods and is determined to find a way to get at the oil feasibly:
The latest technique we’ve heard about is called ‘acid fracking,’ which would mean essentially dissolving the underground formation to release the oil. That would have environmental consequences for sure. It’s a moving target.