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California Needs a Moratorium on Fracking Now

Damon Nagami

Posted July 23, 2013

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A recent poll shows a majority of Californians want a moratorium on fracking. Governor Jerry Brown should give the people what they want.

Leadership doesn’t mean sitting out tough battles. Governor Brown should use his executive power to direct DOGGR, the state oil and gas agency, to carry out its statutory duty to prevent oil and gas operations from harming human health, property, or natural resources and impose a moratorium on all new fracking and well stimulation projects until adequate regulatory safeguards are in place.

As I’ve blogged about many times before, fracking is a controversial oil extraction method that's been linked to drinking water contamination, air pollution, and triggering earthquakes. Millions of Californians already face the threat of fracking in their backyards, and this threat is growing as oil companies are poised to increase their fracking activities, as well as other well stimulation methods, to exploit the Monterey Shale Formation — a massive geological formation in central California that may hold up to 15 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, or two thirds of the country’s shale oil resources.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo put a fracking moratorium in place to allow state regulators time to analyze environmental impacts and develop rules. The state of Vermont and local governments in several states have prohibited fracking entirely.

Yet here in California, regulators have been asleep at the wheel. Californians lack basic information about where fracking is happening, how much water and which chemicals are being used, whether groundwater is being protected, and the extent to which fracking might be polluting our air or triggering earthquakes.

For more than a year, environmental groups, public health advocates, and folks with drilling in their communities have been calling for a “time-out” on fracking so we can better assess the risks and potential impacts involved and ensure that public health and the environment are protected. Last month's poll by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times showed that 58% of California voters want a moratorium on fracking, too, at least until an independent commission has studied its environmental impacts.

Despite the public’s desire for a fracking moratorium, our elected officials have yet to take action. Three concerned legislators introduced moratorium bills this year, but none of them made it out of the Assembly. And while the Brown administration has started the process of putting new fracking regulations in place, and Senator Fran Pavley’s fracking bill, SB 4, could add even greater protections, any resulting regulations—sufficiently protective or not—are still more than a year off, during which time oil companies are free to frack with little oversight or accountability for the resulting impacts to public health and the environment.

How should Governor Brown proceed? He should listen to Californians.  

Whether it’s tackling climate change through AB 32 or creating a comprehensive network of marine protected areas, California has a track record of being a national leader on the environment. Protecting communities from the effects of fracking should be no exception. Governor Brown should listen to the people and use his executive authority to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking until the environmental and public health impacts are studied and adequate and enforceable safeguards are set in place.

Photo: Monterey County oil fields (credit NRDC)

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Bob NastJul 23 2013 03:22 PM

As you stated, over 70% of CA voters favor banning or strictly regulating fracking. More than half of the voters — 58% — say they favor a moratorium.
Currently, CA is the only state involved in wide-scale fracking, without adequate regulations or oversight and no severance tax. Unfortunately, for the environment, and us Sacramento has disconnected public good from public policy in this particular instance. This continuing failure to produce successful energy oversight policies will have long-term negative economic, environmental and health outcomes.

Strangely, it has never been a liberal versus conservative issue in California. Our Democratically controlled legislature (so far) has failed to produce any legislation leading to viable fracking oversight, regulation or tax. In fact, three proposed bills calling for a moratorium to allow for safer extraction have all been unsuccessful.

With 70% of the voters (both liberal and conservative) wanting fracking strictly regulated or banned, our legislators need to re-rack their priorities to align them with their voting constituents. It is interesting to note that the state Democratic parties of NYS and PA have both adopted “a Fracking moratorium” as part of their platforms . Suggest the California Democratic Party consider their example.
With only minor exceptions, the huge majority of CA legislators are dedicated, hard working, and highly competent individuals. However, the current system forces them to be professional fundraisers first sometimes at the expense of their less affluent constituents. Therefore, it comes, as no surprise the main reason for this disconnect between public good and public policy has been campaign financing and legislators who “just couldn’t say no”. California scored relatively high on the State Integrity Index, but it could improve in such areas as campaign finance enforcement . The carbon-based energy industry has long retained an unusually strong influence over Sacramento.
What is more unsettling (no kidding serious) about current CA politics concerning fracking, is the toll it has been taking on our Democratic System and subsequent loss of public trust. Large multi-national carbon-based energy corporations are using the same models and tactics they use to corrupt developing countries’ governments (local, state and federal) to shape Californian non-renewable energy regulation and oversight policy.
No one disputes that California’s tight shale oil holds economic promise . However, it has rapidly become a mixed blessing without adequate risk assessment , severance tax or impact fees and oversight regulations . Without proper oversight, the fracking risk/reward ratio for Californians remains bleak. Our regulators need effective regulations and resourcing to assist the operators in eliminating (if possible) or at least mitigating known fracking risks of manufactured seismicity, possible widespread and long-term ground water contamination, and challenges to public health and agriculture, etc.
Why the rush - Whose hair is on fire here? - Tight shale oil fracking has never been time sensitive. This resource has been here an extremely long time. The only place it should be going is up (in value). There are no “public” economic imperatives , fueling this rush to exploit CA shale oil. Based on the PA model (which CA is closely emulating) the facts dispute industry’s claims that fracking will be a huge jobs and tax revenue producer for all Californians.
Since it is the Fourth of July, we would be remiss if we did not mention Patriotism as a possible motivating factor. According to ‘our’ Uncle Sam, most of the fracked oil will be going off shore to the highest bidder (nominally China) just like U.S. fracked natural gas . Also, CA shale oil is too dirty to be sold or burned in CA. Lower prices for gasoline will not happen because gas prices, are determined worldwide-irrespective of what Government leaders may be telling us .
As California’s elected officials further assess the pros and cons of fracking for tight oil, they should start making informed decisions based firmly on empirical evidence (not persuasive industry claims and campaign financing).
Conservation (AKA leaving it in the ground) until we can safely extract it, would make good horse sense. We need operators to collaborate with regulators to sort out how to extract it more “responsibly and safely”. Therefore, nobody’s hair should be on fire to exploit and export this (for now) questionable asset!
Bottom-line...CA Democrats need to start acting more like Democrats when it comes to the controversial subject of fracking, while Republicans should start thinking more in terms of basic regulations and resourcing of oversight personnel, which would ensure sustainable fracking versus an eventual ban after irreparable damage has occurred.
Both sides need to get more in touch with their “other than corporate” constituents (in my opinion). .
I end with a quote for all of us to consider seriously, whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Agnostic... “The sharp decline in public trust in government at all levels--and public trust in most all large institutions—is based in large measure on the perception that they are failing to produce successful policies and outcomes. The previous prominence of reason-based decision making in the U.S. democratic system was it greatest source of strength....” former Vice President Al Gore.
Best Regards- R. Thomas Nast, Oxnard, CA // Contact info:
Please send me your thoughts on the subject. Semper Fi
Thought for Today...” Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

John BrooksJul 23 2013 03:49 PM

In Ventura County, there are hundreds of old permits for wells that the drillers can activate with almost no scrutiny for possible impacts to the air and water etc. Are these wells going through earthquake faults , punching through aquifers where a dwindling supply of water is stored? Who knows? SB 4 , which is the only legislation still in play, would at least require a new permit and CEQA (environmental ) review.for well stimulation. (fracking, acid etc. ) I hear rumors that the governor would support removing the permitting process. That must not happen , contact your legislators and Governor Brown to keep SB 4 strong.
(It should even be stronger)

CFROG Citizens For Responsible Oil & Gas

Peg MitchellJul 23 2013 04:43 PM

I find it incomprehensible that a governor we elected with the highest of environmental stewardship hopes, and who has lived up to that for the most part until now, would suddenly become big oil's best friend so easily and quickly. He's already taking great credit for turning around our budget issues and dire economic situation, so don't pretend it's all about the jobs and the revenue this would generate. How can he support both AB32 then unleash such intense GHGs elsewhere by allowing such extreme extraction to go on without any accountability or oversight let alone letting it happen at all. There are very deep pockets at work here, and that's very sad for someone in whom we placed the public trust. That said, we need to do everything we can to ensure SB4 is as strong as it can possibly be while lobbying to bring back the Bloom bill next year!

Stephen HarrisJul 24 2013 12:10 PM

I am pleased that your blog, or daily opinion piece, distributed at virtually no cost to the general public, finds folks like yourself that try to get engaged and do positive things for all of us humans. It would be even more heartening if you studied the issues adequately before you let your inculcated, doctrinaire you have unfortunately been subjected to by our incredible failing school system, i.e., open your eyes and get your facts straight. If the petroleum industry, coal industry, nuclear industry (leave anyone out you dislike?) were not gun-shy about stirring up animus from hysterical "environmentalists" (what an oxymoron - John Muir would still be asking why San Franciscans have not torn down Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite - Oh, I forgot - to plug in their battery cars!) they would be suing you for slander and defamation, kid. You make statements that fracing (notice correct spelling) has caused...blah blah blah. Even the EPA cannot find one instance after three years of investigating where after two million frac jobs in 60 years ANYWHERE in this country where there has there been ground-water contamination or induced earthquakes or whatever your juvenile scare buzz-kill words of the day may be. You should stop, look and listen and know that the "man" has you by the balls son and you are playing to its fiddle big time. BTW, Halliburton has a chemical formula for its frac fluids that is 100% benign ("chemicals" make up less than 1% of the frac fluid, which is almost all water and sand) but they are waiting until you bloggers bloviate out of steam before they release the information to the public. Anyway, I trust you know I mean no ill-will, but you do not talk or write like a vey mature journalist and I thought someone needed to tell you so.

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