A month ago you couldn’t tell the California fracking legislation without a scorecard. While the game is far from over, only one substantive bill regulating the controversial method of oil and gas extraction remains, and it falls far short of what critics had hoped for.
Maplight, a website that focuses on money’s influence on politics, identified 12 bills under consideration during the legislative session that were relevant to fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing. Eight were opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association, chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.
Seven were stalled (and are probably dead), three were defeated and, by Maplight’s count, two are still under active consideration. But one of those two, Assembly Bill 665, simply increases indemnity bonds for abandoned wells.
That leaves Senate Bill 4, which requires some form of public notice before fracking commences and groundwater testing while it proceeds, but lacks the moratorium critics favored while scientists try to determine if the practice is safe. It also allows drillers to avoid disclosure of what chemicals they are pumping into the ground by claiming they are trade secrets.
Assembly Bill 1323, the only moratorium legislation brought to a vote, was defeated in the Assembly May 30 by a vote of 37-24. Maplight noted that interest groups opposing the bill contributed 7.1 times as much to lawmakers, compared to those who supported it. Those who voted “No,” and that included a lot of Democrats, received an average of 31 times as much money from opposing groups as supporters. Seventeen of the 18 lawmakers who declined to vote, all of whom were Democrats, received five times as much money from opposing groups.
Maplight identified four members of the petroleum association as having contributed $464,450 to lawmakers between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2012. Chevron led the way with $292,700, followed by ExxonMobil, $72,000, Valero Energy, $71,300, and British Petroleum, $28,450.
But those aren’t the only dollar signs dancing before lawmakers’ eyes. The state is salivating over the prospect of using fracking, which has been employed for decades in a limited form, to drill for an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil imbedded in Central California’s Monterey Shale field.
Although fracking has been around for a long time, it is virtually unregulated in California. Fracking requires injecting millions of gallons of pressurized water, chemicals (some toxic), sand and other substances into a well to crack open the rocks and allow easier access to oil and natural gas. Critics say it has been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, releases of methane gas, micro-earthquakes and sink holes.