State Senators Mitchell and Leno introduce fracking moratorium bill

Written By: Dan Bacher, February 23, 2014

State Senators Mitchell and Leno introduce fracking moratorium bill

State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) have introduced legislation that would impose a moratorium on fracking and acidization in order to protect California’s air and water from pollution caused by this dangerous form of oil and natural gas extraction. 

The bill was introduced as California reels from a record drought and Governor Jerry Brown continues to support the expansion of fracking in California and the construction of the fish-killing peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). 

Senators Mitchell and Leno's bill, SB 1132, faces an uphill struggle. All but one fracking bill, including fracking moratorium legislation, failed to pass through the Legislature last year due to intense lobbying by the Western States Petroleum Association and oil companies. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), headed by Catherine Reheis Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, is the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento. 

The only fracking bill to pass through the legislature and be signed by the Governor in 2013 was Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4, legislation that gives the green light to fracking in California. 

SB 1132 calls for a moratorium on all forms of "extreme well stimulation," including hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and acidization until a comprehensive, independent and multi-agency review exploring the economic, environmental and public health impacts is complete. 

“The study will also include evaluation of the adverse and disparate health impacts and environmental burdens affecting lower-income and minority communities,” according to a news release from Senator Mitchell’s Office. “It further requires that Governor Jerry Brown act in response to the study’s findings to determine if and where fracking and other well stimulation may resume.” 

“There are a million Angelenos that live within a 5-mile radius of the largest urban oil field in the country,” said Senator Mitchell, whose predominantly minority district includes the Inglewood Oil Field. “In my district vulnerable neighborhoods lie adjacent to drilling operations whose practices go largely unregulated.” 

“Complaints that residents are exposed to hazardous chemicals and toxic pollutants and which cause all kinds of health symptoms have been ignored. When industrial operations like fracking and acidization disproportionately impact minority communities, environmental justice has been breached and needs to be restored. SB 1132 will do that,” she stated. 

Mitchell noted that current California law does not regulate either fracking or acidization. Of the more than 750 chemicals used in fracking, at least 29 of them are known to be harmful to human health. These chemicals, including hydrofluoric acid and benzene, have been linked to cancer, respiratory, developmental, and neurological problems, yet the practice of fracking and other potentially dangerous methods of oil and gas extraction continue to spread. 

A bill passed last year, Senate Bill 4, requires an independent study of fracking, Mitchell said. SB 1132 would expand its scope to include health risks posed by chemicals used in other forms of well stimulation, the safety of industry workers and nearby residents, as well as the state’s water supply. 

“A moratorium on fracking is especially critical as California faces a severe drought with water resources at an all-time low,” said Senator Leno. “We are currently allowing fracking operations to expand despite the potential consequences on our water supply, including availability and price of water, the potential for drinking water contamination and the generation of billions of barrels of polluted water. 

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement praising the bill, noting that “Senate Bill 1132 seeks to safeguard California’s water supply from overuse and contamination by fracking as the state struggles with a devastating drought.” 

“Senator Mitchell deserves applause for working to protect Californians from fracking pollution with a bill that stops the use of this toxic technique,” said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “A fracking halt is what’s needed in California, and a halt to fracking is what a majority of Californians support. To safeguard our air, water and climate, Sacramento legislators should move quickly to pass this badly needed bill.” 

The Center said fracking blasts massive amounts of chemical-laced water into the ground to crack rock formations. The process routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimethylbenzene. Fracking has been documented in 10 California counties. 

Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells over 200 times in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and truthout.org last year. 

The Center cited two studies documenting the harm fracking poses to human health. Birth defects are more common in babies born to mothers living near fracked wells, according to a new study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. In California, a recent Center report found that oil companies used 12 dangerous “air toxic” chemicals more than 300 times in the Los Angeles Basin over a period of a few months. 

"Even as California copes with a drought of historic proportions, an escalation of fracking threatens the state’s water supplies. The huge quantities of water used to frack wells are so contaminated that they must be removed from the hydrological cycle. Fracking chemicals can also pollute rivers, streams and aquifers. And fracking pollution contributes to climate change, which is worsening droughts in many areas," the Center noted. 

Besides posing a big threat to human health, the pollution to California groundwater supplies, rivers and the Delta that will result from fracking and acidization will devastate already imperiled populations of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. 

Predictably, WSPA President Reheis-Boyd blasted the introduction of SB 1132, stating that "introducing legislation to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing does not make a lot of sense since California just adopted the toughest regulations on the technology in the country." 

"Both Sens. Mitchell and Leno voted in favor of those regulations which are embodied in Senate Bill 4. That legislation requires the type of science-based comprehensive study of hydraulic fracturing included in the Senators’ moratorium proposal, along with a long list of testing, monitoring, permitting and disclosure requirements," she claimed. (http://www.wspa.org/blog/post/moratorium-legislation-does-not-make-sense-california)

Background on oil industry money and power 

Since it is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, the oil industry is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4. 

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent over $4.67 million, more than any other interest group, while lobbying state government in 2013, according to data released by the Secretary State's Office and compiled by the Capitol Morning Report. 

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association and former Chair of the Marine Life MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force in Southern California, led the successful campaign last year by the oil industry to defeat all one bill to ban or regulate the environmentally destructive practice of fracking last year. 

The oil industry added last minute amendments to Senator Fran Pavley's already weak legislation to regulate fracking in California, Senate Bill 4, last September, making an already bad bill even worse. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation, dubbed by environmentalists the "green light for fracking" bill, on September 20. 

Another oil company giant, Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries, spent $3.95 million, the third most spent by any group on lobbying state government in 2013. Chevron also spent much of its money on lobbying against bills that would ban or regulate fracking in California. 

A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators. (http://blog.center4tobaccopolicy.org/oil-lobbying-in-california

Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. 

The oil industry extends its influence not only by direct lobbying, but through its presence and leadership on boards and panels, in a classic example of the fox guarding the hen house. In an extreme conflict of interest, WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd not only chaired the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast, but she served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast. (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-Top-Censored-Environmental-Story-of-2012-Marine-guardian-lobbies-for-offshore-oil-drilling-fracking.php

The MLPA Initiative, under the "leadership" of Reheis-Boyd and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interests, created fake "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. 

While Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to "protect" the ocean, the oil industry was conducting environmentally destructive fracking operations off the Southern California coast. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and truthout.org reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 when Reheis-Boyd served as a "marine guardian." 

For more information on oil industry power and money, go to: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/11/08/sacramento-a-capital-awash-in-oil-money/ 

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