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Fracking Disclosure Bill Advances in California State Legislature
SACRAMENTO - June 6 - The California State Assembly has passed legislation sponsored by Environmental Working Group and Earthworks to require oil and natural gas drillers to make public a complete list of chemicals they use in oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations. The fracking issue has raised alarms in communities nationwide because some chemicals injected into the earth to break up rock formations and free oil and gas are known human carcinogens such as benzene, xylene, toluene and diesel fuel.
The bill, known as AB 591 and authored by Assembly member Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), now goes to the California State Senate, where a committee that considers water quality issues is expected to hear it before the end of June.
The bill would require oil and gas companies to inform the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources what chemicals they injected, the source of water used, how much water was used, and whether any radiological components were injected and their fate. The state agency would be mandated to publish online the drillers’ chemical lists and locations of specific wells where the chemicals were used.
“California is leading the way with a legislative roadmap for real reform in the way the the oil and gas industry must reveal what chemicals are used in fracking operations,” said Bill Allayaud, Director of Government Affairs for EWG’s California office. “This measure could become the first law in the country that won’t allow the natural gas industry to hide behind confidential business information claims as they do in other states like Wyoming and Texas. It would force companies to make public every chemical used in fracking operations in the state.”
"AB 591 is common sense. In order to protect public health, the public needs to know the chemicals that drillers are injecting through the water table.” said Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill. “California is sending a strong signal to Congress to pass the federal FRAC Act, which will ensure that all Americans have the right to know what chemicals the oil and gas industry is using that could contaminate their drinking water."
The bill garnered 50 aye votes, 9 more than the minimum of 41 required for passage
The state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, has worked against the legislation. After initially downplaying the existence of fracking in California, their officials then assigned inflated costs estimates for implementing the bill. At a public hearing, they then claimed that making public the chemicals used at fracked wells in California would only disturb citizens and suggested an amendment to the bill that would have required drillers to disclose chemicals on an industry website called “FracFocus” rather than the state government website. Such a change would have created a loophole: FracFocus does not require drillers to post chemicals they regard as parts of trade secret combinations. As well, the public would be unlikely to trust an industry website to convey complete, impartial information.
“We hope that state officials will now start to work to craft a strong bill rather than try to kill the legislation by exaggerating cost estimates and suggesting weakening amendments,” EWG and Earthworks said in a joint statement. “Certainly, they need to stop claiming that listing these chemicals on their website will only serve to ‘alarm’ Californians who may see that carcinogenic chemicals are being injected near their property or near water bodies they treasure.”
EWG and Earthworks added that until Congress and the Obama administration enact a similar law at the federal level, the drilling industry will continue to be governed by a patchwork of state laws that are generally weaker than the initiative moving forward in California.