California Gets New Fracking Regulations

For those accustomed to the inch-by-inch slog of the fracking debate in states like New York or Pennsylvania, it could feel as though California is moving at warp speed. The statewide coalition, Californians Against Fracking, just held its first statewide protests back in May, but after a slew of bills were introduced on the subject earlier this year, only one remained and was voted out of the state legislature earlier this month.

Last Friday, September 20, Governor Jerry Brown signed that lone bill into law, which will regulate fracking in the Golden State as of January 1, 2014. Brown included a signing statement with the bill stating that there are still some amendments needed, which he would work to develop with the bill's author next year. I have to hand it to Brown for handling this on a Friday, aka news dump day. That's how we refer to the traditional political practice whereby bad or unpopular news is released on a Friday to include in Saturday's low-octane media, generally drawing far less attention than it would on, say, a Tuesday.

You'll recall from an earlier post on the subject that the oil-rich Monterey Shale deposit represents a tantalizing opportunity for the oil industry, as unlike elsewhere, oil, not natural gas, is to be extracted. As the deposit lies, in part, over the Central Valley (aka our national vegetable patch) there is some urgency to bring regulations to bear before we have a new shale boom on our hands.

The oil-rich Monterey Shale deposit represents a tantalizing opportunity for the oil industry, so there is some urgency to bring regulations to bear.

Any way you slice it, this bill means - for now - no moratorium (as environmental groups had hoped) nor unrestricted easy, breezy access to drilling in the Monterey Shale (as the oil industry had hoped). This bill managed to anger all of these stakeholders, particularly environmental groups as the bill's terms were weakened just prior to passage.

Even so, California will be home to the nation's toughest fracking regulations, requiring permits to be filed for drilling wells, notification of neighbors living near wells, groundwater testing and more study of fracking's effect on the environment. These requirements will also apply to acidizing, or the use of chemicals to dissolve shale rock formations. We still don't have complete details on all of these requirements, which could change with further amendments.

The bill requires that by January 2015, state officials must complete their environmental study and the state Department of Conservation must create the new fracking permitting process. As a part of that process, oil companies must fully disclose which chemicals are used in fracking, a provision to which the oil industry did not object. Bear in mind that in many states with fracking regulations, there are loopholes for industry to get out of full disclosure (usually, the proprietary nature of the chemical mix used in fracking is cited). We'll see how California handles this issue next year.

In the meantime, renowned Chez Panisse chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag just yesterday launched a chefs' petition in collaboration with Food & Water Watch and Californians Against Fracking. Similar to the East Coast's Chefs for the Marcellus, these top chefs are rallying their colleagues to take a stand and protect the well-loved food and wine grown and produced above the Monterey Shale.