This month, California State Senator Fran Pavley introduced significant amendments to her bill to regulate hydraulic fracking activities (SB 4), including a ban on fracking until completion of a study on its impacts and a permit requirement specific to fracking activities.  The bill as first introduced would only have required disclosure of the chemicals and the amount of water used in fracking operations (see December 9, 2012, post). 

After the amendments, SB 4 would require the Natural Resources Agency to complete a study on the impact of fracking before 2015.  If the study is not completed and peer reviewed by that time, the bill would prohibit the Department of Conservation’s Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) from issuing any permits allowing fracking beginning January 1, 2015, until the study completed and peer reviewed.  Also, despite DOGGR’s assertions that induced seismicity is not a concern associated with fracking, the study would include an examination of the potential seismic effects. 

The amended bill would also require operators to obtain a permit specifically allowing fracking activities, which the operator would need to provide to certain surface property owners at least 30 days before commencing fracking operations.  The application for the permit would require an estimate of the amount of water to be used in the proposed fracking activities, the source of that water, and the estimated length, height and direction of the fractures.  DOGGR would be responsible for determining whether the proposed fracking activities present an “unreasonable risk.”

SB 4 as amended is not the first bill proposed in the California Legislature to require a permit specific to fracking activities.  AB 288, introduced in the Assembly in February (see March 8, 2013, post), would also require a fracking-specific permit.  These bills contrast with DOGGR’s current discussion draft of regulations governing fracking activities (see December 19, 2012, post), which would not require fracking-specific approval.

However, the amendments to SB 4 introduce the first potential moratorium on fracking activities in the state since the California Legislature tabled an Assembly bill last summer that would have barred fracking activities pending state regulations (see August 17, 2012, post).  SB 4, on the other hand, would only prohibit the issuance of fracking permits if the study on its impacts is not completed and peer reviewed before 2015.  Nonetheless, it is likely that the study and the peer review process would not be completed before the 2015 deadline and the fracking moratorium would go into effect until such time as that work is completed.

Co-authored by Michael N. Mills and Robin B. Seifried.