On Friday, September 20, 2013, just days after indicating his support for the bill, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 4, which establishes a permitting system for the fracking of new oil and gas wells. The Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is now officially tasked with developing the permitting program, which will be partly based on additional “clarifying amendments” to SB 4. Governor Brown promised to seek these additional amendments next year.

In addition to the new permitting scheme, SB 4 imposes stricter groundwater monitoring regulations, new notification procedures to nearby property owners prior to well stimulation activities, and new disclosure requirements for the chemical make-up of fracking fluid.  Governor Brown signed SB 4 into law despite a provision regulating acid well stimulation treatment, which was the product of a late amendment to the bill, and his public objections to its inclusion. (See June 20, 2013 and August 22, 2013 posts.)

The new legislation gained the Governor’s support despite objections to its final form from both the oil and gas industry and environmental groups, both of which are two key constituents for the Governor.  The environmental detractors claim that the new regulations will essentially allow for the unfettered use of fracking techniques in oil and gas development, while industry groups believe subjecting well development to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, as the new law requires, will prove to be unduly burdensome, costly and time-consuming. Because of its universal dislike by all stakeholders, Governor Brown probably viewed SB 4 as the safe, middle-ground between no new legislation, which industry supported, and an outright moratorium on all well stimulation techniques, which environmental groups had advocated. 

Now the ball is in DOGGR’s court, as regulations will be drafted to fill in the details of SB 4’s requirements and flesh out any “clarifying amendments” that are passed.