Drought, Fracking, and Conflict in California

By Sarah Howard.

Governor Brown worked with lawmakers on Senate Bill 4, adopted in September 2013, to set a framework  for regulation on fracking and well stimulation in California.  On January 1st, 2014, SB 4 went into effect and with it the interim well stimulation regulations meant to be a placeholder for the permanent well stimulation regulations that are still accepting public commentary and will become effective January 1st 2015.

In short the SB4 regulations require oil and gas companies operating in the State of California to do all sorts of things that other regulations have allowed them to dodge including but not limited to:

  • Information on chemicals and acids used in extraction and stimulation not disclosed under trade secret protection will be made available to inquiring government agencies and health professionals.  Basically, some chemical information will remain in the shadows but the government has power to access the information
  • A public website will be developed that discloses chemical information to the public in reference to its use in well stimulation treatments
  • Appropriate treatment of waste water from well stimulation procedures
  • The fracking industry is now subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act
  • Independent studies on the effect of fracking to air and water quality
  • Notice to neighboring land owners of intent to frack or well stimulate

Governor Brown supports hydraulic fracking in California as a means to transition our state off dirty energy and work towards curbing CO2 emissions. He also supports SB4 that, in my opinion, has commendable regulation on fracking in the state.  However, it is no secret that hydraulic fracking is an extremely water intensive practice and Brown’s support of this practice couldn’t come at a worse time.

By mid January 2014, Governor Brown had declared a drought emergency for California and urges citizens and business to reduce water usage by 20%. While large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles are fairing well due to decades of planning for water shortages, many rural, less-populated areas of California are in significant risk of running out of water like in Kern, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz counties. These communities face the very real posibility of running out of water in 2014 and look to trucking it in for short-term relief. Many of the susceptible communities are not going to be able to carry out long term water relief projects without state support, which given budget constraints, may not come.

So how, when CA ranchers are selling off cattle, cutting employees, and the CA state water project declares it will provide NO water to urban or agricultural residents this year can the governor publicly endorse an industry that is going to need absolute assurance of water availability to operate? How will CA agencies justify earmarking portions of our severely constrained water resources to an emerging industry over the residents and agricultural industry that have made CA what it is today? An article by Dan Bacher on this very contradiction puts it nicely:

“It’s hypocritical for Governor Brown to ask Californians to cut their personal water usage while pushing a plan that would allow the fracking industry to massively increase the amount of water it consumes and contaminates,” said Zack Malitz, CREDO’s Campaign Manager. “If Governor Brown moves forward with his fracking plan, he’ll be forcing farmers and ranchers to compete with the fracking industry for water while exacerbating climate change and making California even more vulnerable to extreme drought in the future.”

California environmentalists are already up-in-arms over our governor’s public support for hydraulic fracking and as this drought continues their cries will grow louder as conservative ranchers and framers join them.

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