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California Fracking Bills Seek To Regulate Controversial Practice

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California legislators have introduced a flurry of bills that would put controls on a controversial oil drilling technique that many critics charge has been left largely unregulated.

Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned by the way the state handles hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process that occurs when a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and other chemicals are flushed into an oil well in order to create cracks in the surrounding rock. In recent months, at least eight measures have been proposed.

One of the most high-profile bills, authored by State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would require drillers to apply for a permit before fracking a well, publicly release the makeup of all chemicals used and notify all adjacent property owners at least 30 days in advance. The law would also require energy officials to report all related activity on a public database built and run by the state--separate from, the industry-run site site California currently uses to track fracking.

But most strikingly, the bill would temporarily ban fracking entirely if the state doesn't release its own independent study looking at the environmental and public health risks of the practice by January 1, 2015.

"The rules...are merely the kind of common-sense protections needed for any potentially hazardous industrial activity, let alone one that is rapidly expanding in our state," Pavley said in a statement. "While the industry correctly notes that fracking has been going on in California for 60 years, many of the techniques and chemicals are new, as is the immense scale of many of these operations."

The Ventura County Star reports:

Pavley said she does not intend the bill to be a moratorium but included the tight deadline to motivate the Brown administration.

"We want to give them all of the impetus they need to complete the study, or they themselves will create the moratorium," she said.

Other fracking bills introduced this legislative session include proposals that would specifically regulate the wastewater produced through fracking, charge a fee whenever a producer seeks a permit to frack a well and bring regional water control boards into the regulatory process.

Late last year, the California Department of Conservation introduced a draft set of regulations regarding fracking, many of which were already standard best practices used across the industry.

Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, told the Associated Press that legislators should allow the Department of Conservation to finalize its regulations, a process officials expect to take about a year, before attempting to rewrite the rules. "If members of the Legislature and others then feel there are gaps in the law and want to offer proposals to make energy production safer, that's a conversation to have," he said. "But if you want to introduce proposals to stop drilling, then that's not productive."

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed that the Monterey Shale, a sedimentary rock formation running under much of central California, contains over 15 billion barrels of oil, sparking interest in the use of fracking to retrieve it. currently reports that 735 of California's approximately 47,000 active wells employ fracking.

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Filed by Aaron Sankin