UPDATE: The Senate approved SB 4 on a 28-8 vote Wednesday night. The measure now goes to Governor Jerry Brown, who has said through a spokesman that he will sign the bill.

When they’re getting grief from all directions for something they’ve aired or written, reporters like to console themselves with the old saying, “If you’re making both sides mad, you must be doing something right.”

drillingrigPerhaps state Sen. Fran Pavley, a Southern California Democrat, can take some solace in that old saw as she reads the emailed statements blasting her bill regulating hydraulic fracturing in California’s Monterey Shale.

Hours after SB4 passed the Assembly on Wednesday, the Western States Petroleum Association said it was “disappointed” with the measure. The industry group warned the bill “could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California.”

But while California’s top oil lobbying group was complaining about the bill going too far, environmental groups were protesting it doesn’t go far enough.

“This legislation does nothing to stop fracking or protect communities across the state from its harmful effects, and last minute changes to the bill made it even worse,” says the release from Californians Against Fracking. “The threats to our state’s water, air, and climate are real and pressing and we don’t have time for half measures like SB4.”

The legislation would tighten how California regulates hydraulic fracturing, a technique where drillers blast chemical- and sand-laden water deep underground to break up rock and extract oil and gas. Fracking has powered drilling booms in Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Texas, and energy companies are eying California’s Monterey Shale as their potential next big hit.

The bill would require drillers to tell the state what chemicals they’re using, how much water they withdraw, and a lot of other information that would be posted on a public website. Drillers would also have to apply for permission to use fracking or other methods to “stimulate” their wells, in addition to the broader well-drilling permit they’ve sent to the states for decades.

The legislation has been amended 10 times since it was introduced. Some of those changes have made environmental groups angry — particularly the removal of a conditional moratorium on fracking. And the energy industry is upset the bill’s scope broadened from hydraulic fracturing to other extraction methods, particularly a process called acidizing.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat from the San Joaquin Valley, summed up the situation when he introduced the measure on the floor Wednesday morning. “Some want no restrictions at all on well stimulation,” he said. “Others want a moratorium or ban on fracking and well stimulation. Neither of these positions are realistic.”

Although environmental groups are still calling for an outright ban on the practice, many liberal Democrats took a much more pragmatic approach during the Assembly debate. Los Angeles-area Assemblyman Richard Bloom noted his bill to stop fracking didn’t go anywhere earlier this year. “I still believe that a moratorium is the best way to go with respect to fracking,” Bloom said, “but this bill is the next best alternative.”

With Democrats now on board, the measure will likely pass in the Senate, which could vote as early as Thursday. And barring a change of heart from Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure will become law. Brown aide Evan Westrup said in a statement Wednesday that the bill “comprehensively addresses potential impacts from fracking, including water and air quality, seismic activity and other potential risks,” and is “an important step forward.”


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor