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PD Editorial: Moving ahead cautiously on fracking

  • (TOM MEYER / meyertoons.com)

When a bill becomes law and influential special interests on both sides squawk, it's worth taking a close look.

The outcome may be a good compromise.

That's clearly the case with state legislation to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method employed by drillers to extract previously unrecoverable oil and natural gas embedded in subterranean rock. Fracking employs huge volumes of water mixed with chemicals, and the waste is often injected back into the ground.

Oil companies opposed Senate Bill 4 because they have avoided government oversight of well-stimulation practices, and they don't want it start now.

Some environmental groups objected to state Sen. Fran Pavely's bill because they aren't satisfied with regulation. They want fraction banned outright.

Gov. Jerry Brown ignored naysayers on both sides and signed SB 4 into law. It will take effect on Jan. 1.

Fracking isn't new in California. It's been practiced here for decades, according to the Western States Petroleum Association. But it has been almost exclusively used in remote areas of Kern County with no potable water, no surrounding population and no other significant business interests.

That's about to change.

Drillers are eager to begin extracting oil and gas from the Monterey Shale Formation, a 1,750-square-mile region of Central California that, according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates, contains 15 billion barrels of oil — about two-thirds of the nation's shale-oil reserves.

That will move fracking near water supplies serving California's agricultural heartland and millions of residents from Modesto to Bakersfield.

The oil industry is promoting the potential for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars of tax revenue over the next decade. Developing this resource also would ease California's reliance on imported oil.

These gains can't come at the expense of environmental safeguards.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog agency, warns that fracking “poses inherent environmental and public health risks” to water supplies, air and water quality, land and wildlife.

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