What Will California’s New Fracking Bill Do?

File photo. Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012.
File photo. Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012.

Groundwater contamination and air pollution are among the environmental impacts some groups worry will come from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking is a process that involves shooting water, sand and chemicals at high speed into rock to release the oil and gas within. Drillers have been eyeing the Monterey Shale in the Central Valley.

A bill on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would put new rules on fracking.

KQED’s Mina Kim spoke with Sacramento Bureau Chief Scott Detrow, who has covered the practice for three years, and has been closely monitoring the legislation.

What would the bill do?

The biggest thing this bill does is provide information about what’s going on. Drillers have been fracking in one way or another for years in California, but the state just doesn’t have the information on where it’s happening, how much water is being used, and what sorts of chemicals are being used. Beginning in 2015, drillers will be providing that information to the state before they drill when they apply for a special fracking permit, and then after the process is complete. That information would be posted to a public website.

If you live near a fracking site, under this legislation, you will receive notice before drillers begin fracking near your property. You’ll be able to request a baseline water test, which essentially means that you’ll get a reading on what your water quality is like before the drilling take place, so that if there’s any problems after the fact you can say: “Look here’s how things were before, here’s how things are since drilling started, and I think drilling’s to blame here.” In a lot of other places where fracking is taking place that data simply wasn’t available, so it was hard for people to prove that it was the drilling that screwed up the water quality.

The bill would be enforced through fines. Drillers can face up to a $25,000 fine for each specific violation they put in place, per day.

Why are some environmental groups upset about the bill?

Environmental groups in the state were pushing for a complete moratorium on fracking.

Why is the energy industry upset about the bill?

The Monterey Shale is difficult to drill in. It’s broken up, and it’s segmented due to all the seismic activity that happens in California. So drillers have found that the best way to get to this oil may not be fracking, but instead sending acid underground, essentially using it to melt down the rock so they can get to the oil. So, when the bill expanded to not just cover fracking, but to cover acidizing as well, drillers really pushed back. In their mind acidizing is just part of the drilling process that they’ve been going through for years.

What’s next?

A spokesman for Governor Brown has said that Brown intends to sign the measure.

Note: Activists with Californians Against Fracking are planning on holding a protest  in San Francisco Friday afternoon outside of Gov. Jerry Brown’s meeting with  Chinese officials, where a memorandum of understanding is being signed on an agreement to address climate change.

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