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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Sierra Club Opposes Weak Fracking Bill SB 4 Passed by the Assembly

September 2013
Oak and Vineyard Sunset No fracking in the Monterey shale. This is what we have to lose! (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

On September 11, the weak hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" bill SB 4, Senate Legislation by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced passed the Assembly with 46 votes. Earlier this month, several consumer and environmental groups including Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch and Center for Biological Diversity called for Senator Pavley to withdraw this hopelessly compromised bill.

Although well-meaning, SB 4 does not provide the disclosure needed for Californians to protect their environment and public health from fracking impacts. Moreover, recent amendments adopted on September 6, will make it hard for Californians—or local and state agencies—to oversee and control fracking's negative impacts until 2015. This could encourage a rush of new fracking well construction with no oversight.

It is important to understand that SB 4 does not actually establish regulations for oil and gas well hydraulic fracturing or for hydrofluoric acid well stimulation. The bill mandates that a study be conducted to then inform the writing of new drilling regulations that would supposedly be enacted in 2015. Secondly the bill requires that several state agencies that regulate water and air pollution must figure out who is responsible for the various pollution problems that fracking creates. Until that time, major issues such as how fracking waste water will be treated or disposed of, or simply dumped into unlined earthen pits (current practice) will continue unchanged.

Key Dangerous New Amendments:
• One new amendment specifies that "no additional review or mitigation shall be required" if the supervisor of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) "determines" that the proposed fracking activities have met the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This provision could be used by DOGGR to bypass CEQA's bedrock environmental review and mitigation process and requirements. This language could also prevent air and water boards, local land use jurisdictions and other agencies from carrying out their own CEQA reviews of fracking.

• Under existing law, the Governor and DOGGR can deny approvals for wells that involve fracking or can place a partial or complete moratorium on fracking. A new amendment in SB 4 states that DOGGR "shall allow" fracking to take place until regulations are finalized in 2015 provided that certain conditions are met. This could be interpreted to require that every fracked well be approved between now and 2015, with environmental review conducted only after the fact.

• Even after two rounds of amendments, SB 4 continues to contain a Halliburton Hush Clause that gives fracking fluid makers rights to use trade secret protections to prevent the public from easily accessing information about the quantities of fracking chemicals carried through their neighborhoods and injected into the ground in their region near their water sources.

Source: Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club's 13 chapters and more than 380,000 members and supporters in California.

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