Skip to main content

Senate Bill 4, a controversial bill sponsored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that opponents say would clear a path to increased fracking, passed the California Legislature on Wednesday, September 11, and is now headed to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

fracking bill

The Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 53 to 18. The bill then moved to the Senate for concurrence and was approved by the Senate late yesterday.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a water-intensive process where millions of gallons of fluid – typically water, sand, and chemicals, including ones known to kill fish and cause cancer in humans – are injected underground at high pressure to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well. This releases extra oil and gas from the rock, so it can flow into the well, according to Food and Water Watch.

"SB 4 would require permits for fracking, acidizing and other oil well stimulation practices," according to a news release from Senator Pavley's office. "It would require notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study. The study would evaluate potential risks such as groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat."

In response to massive opposition to her bill from a broad coalition of anti-fracking groups, Senator Pavley claimed her bill is “an insurance policy" - and described the bill's passage as a "stunning victory for the public and the environment that moves California a step closer to regulating hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), acidizing and other unregulated oilfield practices."

“Without SB 4, there will be no public disclosure of chemicals, no groundwater monitoring and no regulation of acidizing, and the oil companies will continue to be able to frack without a permit or any public accountability whatsoever,” she stated. “The world won’t be perfect if SB 4 passes, but it will be a whole lot better."

Pavley added, “I commend my colleagues for this crucial and difficult vote. There are still many unanswered questions about the use and impacts of fracking and acidizing, and it is in the interest of all Californians to monitor and regulate these practices. Ultimately the oil industry, not the public, should be held accountable for the costs of these activities.”

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Brown's office said the Governor will sign the bill if the legislation reaches his desk.

"The administration has worked collaboratively with the Legislature to craft a bill that comprehensively addresses potential impacts from fracking, including water and air quality, seismic activity and other potential risks," claimed Brown spokesman Evan Westrup.

Calling the legislation "an important step forward," Westrup said Brown "looks forward to signing it once it reaches his desk."

Opponents say legislation undermines existing environmental law

Bill opponents disagree strongly with the Brown administration's assessment of the bill as "an important step forward. The bill "undermines existing environmental law and leaves Californians unprotected from fracking and other dangerous and extreme fossil fuel extraction techniques," according to a statement from Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of over 100 organizations now calling for a moratorium on fracking.

The coalition said farmers, environmental justice groups, public health advocates, local elected officials, students, Hollywood, and many others are calling on Governor Brown to and put a stop to fracking in California. 200,000 petitions have been signed urging Governor Brown to ban fracking in California.

Members of Californians Against Fracking criticized the Assembly's passage of the already weak bill that was further weakened by amendments supported by the Western States Petroleum Association on Friday, September 6 - and urged Brown to ban or place an immediate moratorium on fracking in California. They charged that the bill, as amended, exempts the legislation from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

"This vote to allow fracking in California and exempt it from California's benchmark environmental law shows that our Assembly has thoroughly failed at protecting Californians," said Zack Malitz, campaign manager for CREDO. "We're depending on Governor Brown to step in to prevent the wholesale fracking of our state."

"This legislation does nothing to stop fracking or protect communities across the state from its harmful effects and last minute changes to the bill made it even worse," said Adam Scow, California campaigns director at Food & Water Watch. "The threats to our state's water, air, and climate are real and pressing and we don't have time for half measures like SB 4. We need courageous leadership – it’s time for Governor Brown to act now to ban fracking in California."

"There's only one prudent next step to protect California's water, air, and climate – for Governor Brown to place an immediate moratorium on fracking, acidizing, and other unconventional methods of exploiting fossil fuels," said Victoria Kaplan, campaign director at "Legislators have failed to heed the wishes of a majority of Californians calling for a moratorium or a ban and MoveOn members will continue to organize across the state for an end to fracking."

“The passage of SB 4 demonstrates the continuing stranglehold that Big Oil has on the political process in Sacramento. Attempts to find common ground with an industry hell-bent on exploiting every last drop of oil regardless of the impact on California’s water, valuable farmland and the climate are inevitably bound to fail. The passage of this mangled bill only confirms the need for a moratorium on these dangerous extraction techniques,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

“SB 4 tragically green-lights an extremely dangerous practice with terrible public health impacts near the homes and schools of California’s communities already most overburdened by pollution,” said Madeline Stano, Luke Cole Memorial Fellow at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

“This bill will not protect Californians from the enormous threats of fracking pollution,” summed up Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Fracking poses unacceptable risks to the air we breathe, the water we drink and our climate. We’ll keep working to end this inherently dangerous activity in our state.”

In her comment on the Sacramento Bee website, activist Lauren Steiner emphasized, "This bill is just a permitting, monitoring, notification and disclosure bill with a study thrown in. Telling someone when you're going to frack, where you're going to frack and what chemicals you are going to use is like a murderer telling you, 'I'm going to shoot you on your front porch tomorrow at noon using an AK-47.' At the end of the day, you're still dead. And do we really need any more studies to show us the harms of fracking?"

At the last minute, the only four NGOs still supporting the bill - the California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Working Group and Natural Resources Defense Council - pulled their support for the legislation after the Legislature refused to amend the bill as they had requested earlier in the day.

At the same time that Governor Brown said he intends to sign the gutted fracking bill, the Brown administration continues to fast track the construction of the twin tunnels under the Sacramento -San Joaquin River Delta to export more water to corporate agribusiness interests. The building of the peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.

Californians Against Fracking is a coalition of environmental, business, health, agriculture, labor, political, and environmental justice organizations working to win a statewide ban on fracking in California.

Background: Oil industry is top corporate lobby in California

Oil companies have fracked at least 12 times in California's ocean waters, according to information received from Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by and the Associated Press. The California Coastal Commission has pledged to investigate the environmentally destructive oil extraction method, including what powers the agency has to regulate it.

The complete failure of the state and federal governments to stop or even regulate the environmentally destructive practice of fracking in California's ocean waters is no surprise to those of us familar with the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative – or anybody who has read my investigative news pieces on this topic.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the same lobbyist now leading the charge to expand fracking in California, apparently used her role as a state marine “protection” official to increase her network of influence in California politics.

Reheis-Boyd chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California. She also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

The oil industry, now the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, exceeds corporate agribusiness, the computer and software industry, the film and television industry, the aerospace industry and other major corporate players in California politics in the power that it wields.

The association now has enormous influence over both state and federal regulators.Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.


[dc]Tp/dc]he association spent the most of any organization in first six months of 2013, $2,308,789.95, to lobby legislators and other state officials, according to documents filed with the California Secretary of State.

When the oil industry wields this much power - and an oil industry lobbyist oversaw the process that was supposed to "protect" the ocean - it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that California's ocean waters, as well as farmland, are now being "fracked." Both the state and federal regulators have completely failed in their duty to protect our ocean, bays, rivers and Delta.

For more information about the MLPA Initiative, go here.

Dan Bacher
The Fish Sniffer

Thursday, 12 September 2013