SACRAMENTO -- Plans to halt fracking in California advanced in the Legislature on Monday, when a key committee approved three measures that would prohibit the practice until the state can study it further.
The votes were a victory for environmentalists, who have been scrambling to slow the boom in fracking nationwide. A proposed moratorium on fracking failed in the California Legislature last year.
Hydraulic fracturing is the practice of injecting chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and release oil and natural gas, and it’s allowed energy companies to tap into vast new resources of fuel.
But critics say the impact of the chemicals on nearby water supplies is largely unknown, and they are taking a stand in California as the industry eyes an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil that can be reached through fracking in central and coastal areas of the state.
One of the moratoriums, AB 1323, was authored by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles); the other, AB 1301, came from Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) authored the third bill, AB 649.
All three bills passed 5 to 3, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans standing in opposition.
Bloom said that a moratorium on fracking could act as an incentive to force the state and energy companies to develop new regulations.
"We must identify the risks and assure the public we are doing everything we can to protect them," he said.
California lacks regulations on fracking, which has been used for decades in the state. A number of lawmakers have been pushing for stronger scrutiny, particularly when it comes to disclosing chemicals used.
“We’re asking some fairly basic questions,” Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said earlier this year. “What’s being injected into the ground? What are the health and safety risks?”
Paul Deiro, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Assn., said fracking has been a safe practice in California and said a moratorium would cost the state jobs.
“It would have a chilling effect on future investment in this state,” he said.