California's Legislature has now passed the toughest fracking law in the nation. Environmentalists should be heralding the work of SB4's author, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, whose green credentials are well established.
They are instead calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the legislation, which, thankfully, he won't do. Brown has already said that he will gladly sign the bill. More importantly, he has made that decision for all the right reasons.
First, the legislation requires that oil companies disclose the chemicals they use in the process, formally known as hydraulic fracturing. That process involves pumping water and other substances into shale formations to extract natural gas and has prompted concerns about groundwater contamination.
Second, the bill also requires that drillers notify property owners 30 days in advance of doing any fracking and demands that they test groundwater before and after any operation to monitor water quality.
The bill also calls for a statewide environmental impact review of the process that will be completed by 2015. If the study indicates tougher restrictions are needed, the Legislature can act.
This bill is a logical first step in the state's efforts to keep a weather eye the relatively new process.
Some environmentalists won't be happy unless there is a complete ban on fracking or a moratorium until the environmental impact review is complete. But studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have not linked fracking by oil companies to groundwater contamination.
SB4 was a reaction to new drilling techniques allowing the extraction of oil and natural gas from the Monterey Shale, which stretches from Modesto to Bakersfield and is believed to hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil. That is a massive find and would be enough to fuel the nation for three years. The potential benefits are enormous, including thousands of jobs and desperately needed tax revenue.
California currently has no regulations governing fracking, and it needs them given its seismic history and fragile water supply. But it also needs the commerce that the process could bring to the state.
Pavley's legislation gives the state the toughest laws in the United States, and it paves the way for even stricter laws if scientific reviews indicate they are necessary. In so doing it announces to the world that California cares about its environment and is serious about protecting it.
But passage of the bill also allows oil companies to reasonably explore for resources that can drastically cut the nation's dependence on outside sources of energy.
This is a bill that offers much for California and Gov. Brown should sign it.