(Video) Ruling on Monterey Fracking Knocks Regulators; Bill Advances in Senate

Update: A bill regulating fracking in California passed Tuesday in the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee.

Los Angeles County Democrat Fran Pavley’s measure requires drillers to apply for permits before they use pressurized water to extract oil from shale rock, and to inform the state how much water they use and what chemicals go into their fracking fluid.

Workers change the pipes in a fracking operation in Waynesburg, PA. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers change the pipes in a fracking operation in Waynesburg, Pa. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

Pavley’s bill also would bar the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) from issuing fracking permits until the state completes a study into drilling’s risks.

That provision worries Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association. “We’ve seen this tactic used in other states, particularly in New York where they’ve been working on a study now for four years, so it becomes a de facto moratorium,” he told lawmakers at the Tuesday morning hearing.

Aside from the conditional moratorium, Pavley’s measure, SB 4, covers much of the same ground as the regulations DOGGR is in the process of drafting. Pavley told the Senate committee that her bill aims to “nudge” the department into writing tougher rules.

Pavley’s bill is one of eight fracking-related measures in front of lawmakers this year. Other bills in front of the Senate and Assembly do everything from creating a permanent ban on fracking, to tracking and regulating how drillers dispose of salt and chemical-laced fracking fluid.

Shale drilling is already underway in the Monterey formation, and legislators like Pavley are aiming to stop the the kind of thing the Central Valley Regional Water Board is accusing a Kern County driller of doing. On Tuesday, the board announced it is investigating Vintage Production California for allegedly dumping fracking wastewater into an unprotected pit.

The board’s investigation was sparked by this 2012 YouTube video showing the drilling company dumping fracking water into a trench next to its drilling site:

As the board’s release notes, proper fracking operations in the region use portable tanks that capture hydraulic fracking wastewater and contain it for proper disposal, or obtain the required environmental permits to discharge the material into systems designed to protect surface and ground water quality.

The Senate hearing followed a court ruling on Sunday that found fault with the way federal regulators have permitted fracking in Monterey County.

Here’s the story from The Associated Press:

By Garance Burke, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal land managers violated a key environmental law when they auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on 2,500 acres of prime public land in Monterey County, home to one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation, a judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal said in a ruling posted Sunday that the Bureau of Land Management should have conducted a comprehensive environmental review of the potential impacts caused by fracking before accepting bids for the drilling rights, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Grewal did not say whether the leases themselves would be invalidated, but said he would decide their fate after the parties meet and send him a proposal next week.

Both county officials and environmental groups expressed concerns two years ago about BLM’s plans to auction off the drilling rights for parcels near the lush Salinas River Valley before doing a sweeping review of the impact on water, wildlife and air quality.

Fracking has been quietly occurring for decades in several oil-rich California counties, including Los Angeles, Kern, Monterey and Sacramento. Other states also use the technique to recover natural gas.

Environmentalists often worry that fracking can contaminate groundwater and pollute the air. The industry, however, has said the practice has been safely used for decades.

The leases sold in September 2011 include scenic stretches of southern Monterey County, where cattle ranchers and wine grape growers rely on tight water supplies to irrigate their pasturelands and vineyards. The area is also part of the historic range of the endangered California condor, whose global population was recently estimated at fewer than 400 birds.

The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, alleged the bureau had failed to properly review the environmental risks associated with increased oil and gas development.

“This important decision recognizes that fracking poses new and unique risks to California’s air, water and wildlife that agencies simply can no longer ignore,” said Brendan Cummings, the center’s senior counsel.

Winning bidders would still need to be granted an additional permit from the bureau in order to start drilling using traditional technologies, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique to extract hard-to-reach gas and oil by pummeling rocks deep underground with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.

Bureau spokesman David Christy said Monday afternoon he could not immediately comment on the decision as the agency had not had time to review it, but said officials planned to meet with the other parties according to the judge’s direction.

Here’s the ruling:

Fracking Ruling 13 04 07

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