Supporting a Fracking Moratorium in California

General Counsel Angela Johnson Meszaros makes a presentation on fracking chemicals and trade secrets to PSR-LA members.
General Counsel Angela Johnson Meszaros makes a presentation on fracking chemicals and trade secrets to PSR-LA members.

Yesterday, California’s Assembly heard three bills that called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing: AB 649 by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, AB 1301 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, and AB 1323 by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell.  While each member approached the issue differently, all agreed that California needs to better understand and consider the impacts of the type of expansion in the use of hydraulic fracturing planned for California by the oil and gas industry.

PSR-LA supports all three of these authors and their bills.  As we wrote in our letters of support:

We at Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles believe that the experiences to date, and the data that have been collected thus far, clearly establishes the need for California to engage in more thoughtful consideration of the threshold question of whether to extract oil and gas from shale, before answering the question of how to extract oil and gas from shale.  Until both these questions are answered, it is clear that a moratorium is the most appropriate course of action.

We pointed out to each of the Assemblymembers that:

The Los Angeles Basin’s long history with oil and gas extraction began in the 1800’s and is interwoven with Los Angeles and Orange Counties’ urban fabric.  Still today, oil and gas is extracted from under our feet, next to our schools and in our neighborhoods, using both conventional and unconventional methods. In fact, “Los Angeles’ part of the Monterey Shale holds more oil per square meter…than any other oil-producing basin on the planet.”

Oil and gas wells long ago abandoned as unproductive underlie our communities.  For example, in 2003 the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released the report “Urban Development of Oil Fields in the Los Angeles Basin Area, 1983-2001” and pointed out that—although data collection is difficult—as of 2001 DOGGR knew that more than 3,000 structures were built on or near abandoned oil wells mostly in Los Angeles County.  While we do not suggest that those particular wells will become active again, we know that directional drilling combined with modern extraction techniques—including fracking—make it possible to extract oil and gas from locations long ago abandoned.  Indeed, in South Los Angeles right now there is oil and gas extraction occurring on a small urban lot–next to a high school and homes–that a few years ago was mostly dormant.

We gave our full support to the bill authored by Assemblyman Bloom who proposed a flat moratorium on all fracking until authorized by the legislature.  We appreciate the simple, straight-forward nature of the bill.  (read our letter here)

We also supported, with amendments, Assemblywoman Mitchell’s bill and Assemblyman Nazarian’s bill.  Read our letters to the Members here and here. Both of these bills both call for a moratorium until a specified committee produces a report about fracking and its impacts on California.  After the report is completed, the bills would give the Secretaries of the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency the power to decide if and how fracking would proceed.

These bills are reasonable and set clear instructions for the kinds of expertise that would be included on the committee and the issues that the committee would study. Assemblywoman Mitchell’s bill and Assemblyman Nazarian’s bill both set out the same committee make-up, with a representative (or in Assembylwoman Mitchell’s bill—two representatives) from (A)The California Environmental Protection Agency; (B)The California Natural Resources Agency; (C)The State Department of Public Health; (D)An environmental justice organization; (E)The agriculture industry; (F)The oil and gas industry; (G)An academic researcher with experience in hydraulic fracturing issues and (H)A water agency. PSR-LA recommended to each author that they include two additional public health voices, writing:

we suggest that you consider adding to the advisory committee assessing AB 1323, two representatives from the health community beyond the representatives from the Department of Public Health.  The health issues raised by fracking are broad and complex and require a wider range of expertise and more representation on the study of its impacts than afforded by the current proposed committee structure.  In particular, we suggest one public health advocate and one occupational health expert be added.

All of the bills received enough votes to pass out of the Natural Resources Committee.  Their next stop is the Appropriations Committee when their financial impact on the state of California will be assessed.  We hope that assessment will include the benefit to the State of avoiding harm from exposures to the chemicals used in fracking; although, we know (sadly) these kinds of analyses never do.  (Addressing that issue is a long-term goal for PSR-LA!)

Tomorrow, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee will hear Senator Pavley’s, SB 4, which PSR-LA opposes unless amended because of the trade secret provisions and doctor gag order the bill is promoting. Read our letter on SB 4 and why PSR-LA will not support any fracking regulation or legislation that gags docs or limits public health research.

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