September 1, 2015

frackingAmong the bills in Sacramento that San Francisco PSR has supported this year, are SB 545 (Jackson) and AB 356 (Williams). Each, if passed, would go a considerable way in shining a light on gas and oil extraction processes in California and in better protecting the public’s health.

Fracking and related well-stimulation techniques involve injecting chemicals, acids and other materials into the ground to facilitate oil and gas production.  These processes have been linked to groundwater and surface water contamination, air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions, loss of farmland and open space and earthquakes around the country.  In California, the oil and gas industry’s use of well stimulation has been increasing.

Among the chemicals used in oil and gas extraction are chemicals known under California’s Proposition 65 program to cause cancer and/or reproductive harm such as formaldehyde and benzene.[i]  Health impacts of many of the chemicals used in the processes also include adverse effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys, blood-cell-forming tissues, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, as well as general irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.[ii]

SB 545 (Jackson) calls for major reform of the Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) such as changing DOGGR’s prime directive to become more health protective. It allows for strict and transparent regulation of oil and gas extraction in a manner that protects public health and the environment; requires DOGGR to make written findings when approving permits and post those publicly; eliminates confidentiality of some records of well owners and operators.

All that sounds good and the way it should be, right? But the bill is stuck in the state Senate appropriations committee. There is a chance it could get out of committee and head to the Senate floor, but Committee Chair Senator Lara and other appropriations committee members will need to hear from health professionals and other concerned Californians like you to make that happen.

Take action by: Calling the office of Senator Ricardo Lara and asking him to move SB 545 out of suspense in the Appropriations Committee because DGGR needs to promote the health of Californians- not the same old practices and profits of the oil and gas industry. Call 916-651-4033.

AB 356 (Williams) would help protect public health from groundwater contamination by requiring groundwater monitoring near injection wells. It also authorizes the State Water Control Board to review groundwater monitoring plans as part of oil extraction’s permitting process to ensure injected materials do not pollute water used for drinking.

Like SB 545, this bill makes good health sense, but is similarly at risk of not succeeding.  In fact, it failed passage on the Assembly floor but has been granted reconsideration.  This means the full Assembly might vote on it again in January 2016.  Your voice is needed to undo the Assembly’s failure to pass this important bill, and to ensure that public and environmental health is better protected.

Take action by: Calling the office of Assembly member Das Williams and thanking him for authoring AB 356.  Tell his office that you support the passage of AB 356 and its mandate to protect groundwater, and that you hope it’s successfully reconsidered by the Assembly in January 2016. Call 916-319-2037.

[i] Environmental Working Group, Renee Sharp and Bill Allyaud, California Regulations: See No Fracking, Speak No Fracking (EWG Report),  http://static.ewg.org/reports/2012/fracking/ca_fracking/ca_regulators_see_no_fracking.pdf, p. 16 (accessed 8/22/2015);  California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (Prop 65 list), August 21, 2015 http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html

[ii] EWG Report, p. 17.