Two State Senators Try Enacting a Fracking Moratorium in California: What Are the Chances When the Last Effort Recently Failed?

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The California Assemblymembers who sought a moratorium on all well stimulation activities early last year (vis-à-vis failed bills AB 1301, AB 1323, and AB 649) are seeking yet another moratorium, this time by amending SB 4, which went into effect on January 1, 2014 (and which we have extensively analyzed - see Stoel Rives’ SB 4 Resources Page here). The authors of the newly introduced SB 1132  are State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who last year introduced AB 1323 as a California Assemblymember, and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

SB 1132 would amend portions of Public Resources Code (“PRC”) §§ 3160 and 3161, so that no well stimulation treatments could occur until an independent scientific study was conducted by the Natural Resources Agency. Currently, § 3161(b) states explicitly that so long as an operator complies with PRC §§ 3160(b)(2), (d)(1), (d)(6)-(7), and (g) during 2014, the Department of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) shall allow well stimulation activities. During 2014, DOGGR is responsible for developing permanent well stimulation regulations. In the last days before SB 4 was passed and signed by the governor, this provision allowing for continued well stimulation treatment activities during 2014 was added to ensure continuity in oil and gas operations while permanent regulations were promulgated. Essentially, § 3161(b) guarantees that no moratorium on fracking will occur before the permanent regulations are in place.

SB 1132 would upend the state’s recent policy decision to allow well stimulation treatments to occur and instead institute a ban on well stimulation until an independent study is conducted.  As many readers know, SB 4 also requires an independent scientific study by the Natural Resources Agency, which is on due January 1, 2015 (the same date that DOGGR’s permanent regulations are also due). Considering this timeline, SB 1132’s only intent can be  an attempt to repeal the explicit provisions of SB 4’s ministerial permit requirements for 2014.  The likelihood of this moratorium passing are slim to none, based on the failed efforts last year, and the Governor’s strong influence on the final language in SB 4. 

SB 1132 may survive in some form, however, as to the content of the independent scientific study that DOGGR is now conducting.  In his signing message, Governor Jerry Brown stated that additional clarifying amendments would have to be passed in 2014 (see September 23, 2013 post here).  SB 1132 includes additional considerations for the study, such as the potential impacts of offshore well stimulation activities, impacts on pipeline infrastructure, and worker safety issues.