California’s Strictest-in-the-Nation Fracking Regulations Now Permanent

For many decades, California has been a pioneer in implementing strict regulations to reduce emissions and protect the environment.

Today, we continue that tradition as the rules required by SB 4 – California’s landmark law strictly regulating hydraulic fracturing and other well-stimulation techniques – become permanent. This is something of a technicality, however, as the industry has been complying with “emergency” regulations for more than a year and a half.

SB 4 was passed in 2013 by California’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and was signed by Democratic Governor and celebrated environmentalist Jerry Brown. The law contains, among other things, provisions designed to meet the public’s demand for transparency and accountability, including an enhanced permitting process, chemical disclosure (which companies were already doing on a voluntary basis), notification of land owners, and groundwater monitoring.

While the state’s oil and gas industry could not ultimately support the bill in its entirety, as it significantly overreached in a number of areas, the industry did support the transparency provisions of the legislation designed to inform the public about all aspects of the fracking process. As EID noted previously, these are strict environmental protections for the reality-based community that provide clear direction to the industry, however onerous.

It is to the credit of Governor Brown and the California legislature that they listened to the voices of scientists and state and federal regulators, and not to activists who oppose fracking simply on ideological grounds. California is the third largest energy producing state, and developing our state’s oil and gas resources creates jobs, strengthens our economy and energy security, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. This is well within California’s tradition of robust environmental protection coupled with economic growth.

In this regard, California has favorably distinguished itself from New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo consulted “research” by anti-fracking activists rather than scientists. After years of indecision, he opted to deprive his state’s citizens of the benefits of fracking, while simultaneously benefitting the citizens of neighboring Pennsylvania, from which New York has to buy its natural gas.

While a handful of cities and counties with no fracking operations (like Berkeley and Santa Cruz County) passed symbolic bans on fracking, since SB 4’s passage, there has been only one “ban fracking” measure on the ballot in a location where extensive oil and gas activity takes place. In this case, Santa Barbara County voters overwhelmingly rejected “Measure P” 63-37 percent, a 26 point margin. As well, an anti-oil ballot measure in La Habra Heights was defeated by 14 points.

Californians have spoken with a clear voice that hydraulic fracturing is consistent with California’s progressive environmental tradition. Now that SB 4’s regulations are permanent, the industry, environmentalists, and regulators should work together to ensure that our state continues to lead not only in energy production but also in sensible, science-based, environmental stewardship.

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