California’s fracking regulations: A sign of what’s to come?

While New Yorkers eagerly wait for the state to determine whether it will continue  its fracking moratorium, other states, after years of capitulating to the natural gas industry, are finally taking steps to regulate the practice.

On Sept. 20, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the nation’s most comprehensive fracking bill. According to Legal Planet, the bill sets a January 2015 deadline for the state’s Division of Oil and Gas to create the “nation’s first-ever statewide permit system” for fracking, though details are thin.

Much to the delight of the environmentalists everywhere, the bill would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use during the fracking process, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into deep rock formations to retrieve previously unreachable supplies of natural gas.

For years, the natural gas industry has argued that these chemicals are “trade secrets” and thus should remain confidential.

In addition, the bill requires that the state conduct a scientific study of fracking by 2015. The permits must also be provided to owners of any property within 500 yards of a well head 30 days before the operation begins, KCET reports.

However, an 11th-hour provision was also inserted into the bill, clarifying that fracking will continue to remain unregulated at the state level until the permitting system goes into effect. Consequently, some environmentalists view the bill as concerning and highly compromised.

“As a majority of Californians agree – a moratorium on fracking is needed until the state has fully evaluated fracking’s risks,” the Natural Resources Defense Council, which pulled its support for the bill at the last minute, said in a statement. “In the meantime, these new fracking regulations need to be fixed, which Governor Brown himself acknowledged as he signed them into law. We need Governor Brown to hold true to his promise and correct these eleventh-hour amendments in next year’s legislative session.

“Regardless, we need a moratorium enacted now because we have not yet fully assessed how fracking will affect California’s air, water and communities. The people of California deserve no less.”

The bill comes three months after Illinois passed its own comprehensive fracking bill, which also include chemical disclosure and various notification requirements.

In contrast, the Obama Administration has taken few steps demonstrating that it understands the numerous environmental hazards that arise from fracking, including  contaminated water supplies, dangerous air pollution, destroyed streams, and devastated landscapes.

In May, the Department of Interior released proposed fracking regulations that closely resembled various ALEC-funded measures and merely asked natural gas companies to voluntarily disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluids.

In coming months, we will learn which of these two paths more resembles how America will regulate its most powerful fossil fuel industry going forward. Stay tuned.