California Democrats experience anti-fracking setback

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

California Democrats have suffered a setback in their anti-fracking efforts, but will continue to push for more rules on the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

The California legislature opted not to follow in the footsteps of New Jersey and New York, defeating a bill that would have put a moratorium on fracking within the state until regulations could be imposed.

“The safety of this method of oil extraction has come into question,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, who sponsored the moratorium bill.

“With hydraulic fracturing, hundreds of gallons of water, laced with chemicals, sand … can go horizontally underground. … We don’t know enough,” said California state Sen. Fran Pavley, who also pushed for a moratorium.

Despite the victory for proponents of fracking, this was just one of 10 bills introduced by Democrats designed to increase scrutiny — and regulation — of the practice.

Fox News reports that some of the bills “take aim at how crude is extracted from rock layers beyond the reach of conventional drilling” while others “call for full disclosure of what chemicals are used in the high-pressure process, how they’re removed, and where they’re stored.”

Democrats and environmentalists argue that fracking, which pumps fluids into the ground to break up rock formations, could harm air and water quality.

“Fracking is simply not worth the high costs to California’s environment, public health and agricultural industry,” writes Adam Scow, the California campaigns director for Food and Water Watch.

However, fracking has been safely going on in California for 60 years, says Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

“One of the things that gets lost is what we’re doing in California doesn’t look like what they’re doing in other parts of the country,” Zierman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In other parts they’re doing horizontal multi-stage fracking and in CA we don’t do much of that. We do about 700 wells a year that are hydraulically fractured, it’s about a third of our wells.”

“But it’s the same process we’ve been using for 60 years, which is in vertical wells, single-stage, it takes about a day and it’s very low water volumes,” he added.

“About 90 percent of that activity is happening in Western Kern County, in an area where there’s no potable water, no residents live there, there’s no other commercial activity,” Zierman told TheDCNF. “So we obviously dispute some of the hysteria about the potential risks but even those potential risks don’t exist in 90 percent of the cases in California.

The oil and gas industry and other fracking proponents point to the considerable economic benefits that fracking could bring to the state.

The Monterey Shale formation is estimated to have 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil — two-thirds of the country’s shale oil reserves. A University of Southern California study found that developing the Monterey Shale could generate 2.8 million jobs and $24.6 billion in government revenues by 2020.

This is an exciting prospect for a high-debt state like California. A recent report by the California Public Policy Center put the combined debt of California and local governments at $848 billion — but it could pass $1.1 trillion, according the report.

“The metropolitan Bakersfield area ranked number one in job growth in the entire nation,” Zierman said. “The county of Kern has a $44 million surplus and 9 of the top 10 taxpayers are now oil companies.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has dismissed any notion of jumping on “ideological bandwagons” when considering fracking.

“We have 30 million vehicles in California,” Brown said. “That’s a lot of oil. So I think we have room to supply our need even as we reduce oil consumption. We should be reducing it much faster than we are, and hopefully we can get some national policies to do that, but that still doesn’t mean that in the meantime there isn’t oil under the ground in California that can’t be made very useful.”

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