June 30, 2014

Two California Senate bills, SB 1132 and SB 1371, recently met very different fates in the legislature even though they had similar goals of preventing harm caused by the emission of methane and other dangerous chemicals linked to global warming. The main contributors of methane to the environment are leaks from natural gas pipelines and petroleum and natural gas systems, such as oil and gas drilling, including fracking.[i]

SB 1371 (Leno)

SB 1371, alive and well in the California legislature, calls for the development and implementation of a plan to repair and prevent gas, including methane, leaks in pipelines throughout California.

In addition to preventing greenhouse gas emissions, repairing gas pipelines would help prevent ozone formation, which is linked to respiratory and pulmonary disease. Leaks and defects in pipelines can have catastrophic effects on life and property, as was the case in the Bay Area city of San Bruno in 2010.

Supporters of SB 1371 include health organizations such as SF Bay Area PSR, as well as environmental health, religious and labor organizations; no opposition has been recorded. The bill won easily in the Senate with a vote of 25-10, with 5 not voting. It’s currently making its way through the Assembly.

SB 1132 (Mitchell, Leno)

SB 1132, on the other hand, experienced a defeat, albeit a narrow one. The bill, representing a precautionary approach to fracking in California, called for a moratorium on the processes until their impacts on health and the environment could be better studied and fracking was determined to pose no health risk to the public.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a well-stimulation process used in oil and gas production that involves blasting huge amounts of water mixed with sand and dozens of chemical components deep into the earth, breaking up underground rock formations to facilitate oil and gas extraction. Methane can be released during fracking.

SB 1132 did not win a majority of “yes” votes in the Senate despite a long list and a broad range of health and environmental health and justice organizations supporting a precautionary approach to fracking. The opposition included the American Chemistry Council, California Chamber of Commerce, and Western States Petroleum Association. The final Senate vote was 16-16 with eight senators not voting, including the Bay Area’s Jerry Hill (D 13) from San Mateo.

What’s more, the people of California supported SB 1132. A poll, commissioned by the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that 68 percent of Californians supported SB 1132. And even in these days of polarized politics, support for a moratorium crossed party lines: 78 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, and 51 percent of Republicans backed the move to put the brakes on fracking until the health and environmental impacts are better known and understood.[ii]

A moratorium on fracking would also have been good for the health of fenceline communities.

In addition to global warming, fracking is an environmental justice issue, making it even more concerning that the bill was defeated. “[I]n the West Adams neighborhood in Los Angeles, an oil company used the acidizing process in extracting from an older well. Residents who lived near the well site complained of headaches, dizziness, nausea, nosebleeds, and trouble breathing.”[iii]

The City of Culver City, a supporter of SB 1132, also voiced concern at the steady forward march of fracking: “[T]his area is home to hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses who have experienced the impacts of decades of oil extraction in the [Inglewood oil field]. As evidenced by the number of residents who have expressed their ongoing concerns during recent Culver City City Council meetings, there is significant public apprehension regarding…well stimulation, including hydraulic fracturing.”[iv]

As the bill’s author Senator Holly Mitchell said in her May 30 press release, “When the impacts on the public of a for-profit endeavor are unknown, we try it out first in minority neighborhoods – assuming low vigilance and the need to bring in jobs makes safety irrelevant…But we’ve put big industry on notice: That ploy won’t fly forever. People’s neighborhoods aren’t fodder for fracking, environmental justice must come, and one day soon the vote to refrain from polluting for profit will prevail!”[v]

Like Senator Mitchell, SF Bay Area PSR looks forward to a better day on the fracking front and for a more precautionary approach to guarding the health of communities and the environment.

[i]Drajem, M, Oil, Gas Production Among Top Greenhouse-Gas Sources Bloomberg news, Feb. 8, 2013
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-05/greenhouse-gas-emissions-fall-in-u-s-power-plants-on-coal-cuts.html Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program 2012, GHGRP 2012: Reported Data, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting/ghgdata/reported/index.html (accessed June 6, 2014).

[ii] Baker, DR, Poll: Two-thirds of CA voters want fracking moratorium, May 22, 2014.
http://blog.sfgate.com/energy/2014/05/22/poll-two-thirds-of-ca-voters-want-fracking-moratorium/ (accessed June 6, 2014).

[iii]Duncan D, Chaudrue V, Nurses decry fracking’s impact, Capitol Weekly, May 21, 2014
http://capitolweekly.net/nurse-fracking/ (accessed June 6, 2014).

[iv] SB 1132 Bill analysis, Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml

[v] Senator Holly Mitchell, Senator Mitchell’s SB 1132 Pushes Fracking Moratorium to Senate Floor, Press Release, May 30, 2014, http://sd26.senate.ca.gov/news/press-releases/2014-05-30-senator-mitchell-s-sb-1132-pushes-fracking-moratorium-senate-floor (accessed June 6, 2014).