Today, California Assembly Member Betsy Butler proposed legislation that would impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state pending adoption of regulations governing the oil and gas drilling practice.
3017. “Hydraulic fracturing,” “fracking,” “hydrofracking,” “hydrofracturing,” and “unconventional shale drilling” means a technique used in preparing a well that typically involves the pressurized injection of water and a mix of chemicals, compounds, and materials into an underground geologic formation in order to fracture the formation, thereby causing or enhancing, for the purposes of this division, the production of oil or gas from a well.
This definitional language closely tracks a similar definition in legislation previously proposed by California Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski, Assembly Bill 591, which would require, among other things, the disclosure of chemicals employed in fracking operations. AB 591 is still pending in the Senate Committee on Rules, having most recently been amended in the Senate on April 9, 2012.
The operative language of today’s proposed legislation would add Section 3203.5 to the Public Resources Code. In effect, it would impose a moratorium on fracking in the state until the Department of Conservation and its Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources develop regulations governing the practice:
3203.5. Notwithstanding any other law, until regulations governing hydraulic fracturing have been adopted, the supervisor or a district deputy shall not approve or issue a permit authorizing the drilling of a well pursuant to this division in which hydraulic fracturing is used or is proposed to be used in the production of oil and gas.
Perhaps not coincidentally, certain members of the Los Angeles City Council introduced a resolution yesterday that urges regulators to impose a moratorium on fracking until the state determines that the technology is “safe for public health, for the Los Angeles water supply and for the environment.” Similar fracking moratoria have been imposed in New York and New Jersey, while Vermont has banned the practice, a largely symbolic gesture given that there is believed to be little to no natural gas or oil in that state.
The timing of the introduction of Assembly Bill 972 may doom its potential efficacy. It contemplates that the proposed moratorium would end on adoption of regulations governing fracking. As has been widely reported, on this blog (here and here) and elsewhere, the Department of Conservation contemplates drafting fracking regulations in 2012, with the expectation that such regulations would be adopted and become operative in 2013. Representatives of the Department of Conservation and Division of Oil and Gas are conducting a series of workshops to inform the public about the practice of fracking and to seek public input on the scope of the proposed regulations. Thus, unless Assembly Bill 972 can be fast-tracked and enacted in the near term, it may be mooted by the adoption of the contemplated regulations. Moreover, imposition of a moratorium in California is far from assured, given the legislature’s failure to enact the less controversial disclosure requirements of Assembly Bill 591 and its recent rejection of the notification requirements of Senate Bill 1054.