This September, California Senate Bill Four was passed, creating direct regulations for the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, for oil in the state. The bill allows for tracking, monitoring, regulation and oversight of fracking. Both environmentalists and oil company executives are taking issue with this law.
Environmental activists are claiming the bill is extremely flawed and fails to protect the environment, and say the state government would have been more helpful simply by doing nothing. Meanwhile, the oil industry argues the regulations will prevent the state from profiting from its massive oil reserve in the Monterey Shale rock formation.
Until now drilling companies have not had to disclose that they were fracking at oil wells, even though the practice has generated controversies in communities across the country that report chemicals have contaminated local land, air and drinking water. Now, drillers are required to acquire permits before fracking, disclose chemicals used, test groundwater, notify landowners before drilling and complete additional studies evaluating the risk of fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of sending large quantities of water, chemicals and sand under high pressure thousands of feet underground through wells to break up shale rock formations containing valuable fossil fuels. The practice is commonly used in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic United States for natural gas extraction.
The discussion of fracking stems from the recent finding that California’s Monterey Shale formation is estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil, as much as two-thirds of the onshore oil in the continental United States. The shale has proven to be extremely difficult to tap into, and even methods of fracking have not been particularly effective in accessing the oil.
The oil industry opposed these regulations and argues the law will decrease California’s ability to benefit from developing the Monterey Shale, a process that could create thousands of new jobs and increase tax revenues. Additionally, oil industry representatives argue tapping into the shale could decrease American oil imports, reducing the national trade deficit.
SB4 was one of 10 fracking-related bills proposed this year, but eight other bills were dropped after strong lobbying by the oil industry. SB4 originally received fairly strong support from environmentalists, but last minute changes removed key language that would have delayed all fracking until environmental reviews were completed. Thus, the bill quickly shifted from a rallying point to a bill many green groups are fighting. However people feel about SB4, this definitely will not be the last time fracking legislation is passed in California. More likely than not, this is just the beginning.