California Moves Closer to Requiring Fracking Disclosure

A bill that would require oil and natural gas drilling companies in California to disclose the contents of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing has made it through the California Senate Natural Resources Committee. The bill, AB 591, heads next to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which will take it up next week, the Los Angeles Times said.

In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids, which may contain benzene and other toxic chemicals, are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, energy companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in the fluids. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater.

According to The Los Angeles Times, fracking is widely used in California’s Monterey Shale Formation, which extends from Northern California to the Los Angeles area. As we’ve reported previously, fracking for oil has gone on in California for years with little notice, and almost as little oversight. The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources or DOGGR hasn’t been able to determine where and how often fracking occurs in the state, in part because of budget constraints. Once a driller has a permit from the DOGGR, they are permitted to use any technique to access the oil – including fracking – without any additional reporting to regulators

Recently, several states have implemented regulations requiring drillers to disclose the makeup of their fracking fluids. Just last week, the governor of Texas signed such a bill into law. Other states, including Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan either have put similar regulations in place or are working to do so.

The industry has also stepped up disclosure efforts, with a number of energy companies vowing to list the ingredients in their fracking fluid on an industry-sponsored site called FracFocus.org. But according to the Los Angeles Times, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, the author of the California legislation, has criticized the website because it takes data from Material Safety Data Sheets, which often include flawed and inaccurate information. FracFocus.org also excludes hazardous chemicals that are part of a trade-secreted formula.

AB 591 would require drillers to publically disclose a list of all chemicals pumped into the ground during the fracking process. However, in order to protect trade secrets, it would not require that they list the amount of chemicals used.

The legislation also requires drillers to note whether they are fracking near active fault line. And according to an attorney with Environment California, the proposed law exposes the issue of “tremendous water use flowing to the Central Valley that most Californians think is going to irrigate crops.”

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