California’s New Anti-Fracking Law Draws Opposition From Environmentalists And Big Oil

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On Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s first fracking bill into law, which will impose regulations on the oil and gas industry in the state but will also open up the state’s vast Monterey Shale reserves for drilling.

The law, which will go into effect next year, will require oil and gas companies to list the chemicals they use in the fracking process online. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, chemicals and sand into underground rock formations to unlock oil and gas reserves deep below the Earth’s surface. Fracking chemicals are exempt from federal disclosure laws, so it’s up to each state to decide if and how the oil and gas companies should disclose the chemical brew they use. The law will also require oil and gas companies to get a permit for fracking, notify neighbors before drilling and monitor ground water and air quality. In addition, state officials will have to complete a study by 2015 that evaluates the risk of fracking.

The law’s author said the legislation was aimed at increasing “transparency, accountability and protection of the public and the environment.” But the law has drawn criticism from environmentalists, anti-fracking activists and the editorial board of the LA Times, who called the regulations in the law “so watered down as to be useless.”

The law does’t impose a moratorium on fracking until more research is done about the potential impacts of the practice in the state — a halt similar to the one New York enacted six years ago. And opponents say it doesn’t go far enough in protecting Californians from the dangers of fracking — dangers which could include setting off seismic activity in an earthquake-prone state and damaging the air and water. But the oil industry is still pushing back on even these watered-down regulations, saying they “could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California.”

Limited amounts of fracking have gone on in California for years, but recently the oil and gas industry realized the Monterey Shale formation could hold vast amounts of untapped oil — up to 15.4 billion barrels, or two-thirds of the U.S.’s shale oil reserves. Now that the fracking law is signed, Californians, who according to an NRDC poll largely supported a moratorium on fracking in the state — are right to be concerned about an increase in fracking in the state. A recent report from Pennsylvania documented the range of health effects suffered by residents living near a natural gas operation, including difficulty breathing, dizziness and chronic pain. And another study’s findings on fracking’s effect on cows — including death, still births and genetic mutations — provide more evidence of the dangers the practice can have on nearby residents.

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