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Fracking battle heats up for session’s final weeks

The debate over fracking is reaching a fever pitch in Sacramento, as activists urge a moratorium in the final weeks of this legislative session.

A coalition of more than 100 environmental, health and liberal groups on Wednesday released an open letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose such a ban and blasting SB 4, a pending bill that would allow some fracking to go forward.

“This is a do-or-die moment in the fight against fracking in California,” CREDO political director Becky Bond said in a conference call with reporters, adding that although state Sen. Fran Pavley – SB 4’s author – has been a reliable ally to environmentalists in the past, “it’s appalling that this bill is the best the Legislature has to offer Californians.”

“We know that there’s no safe way to frack,” she said. “Anything less than a moratorium is reckless and unacceptable.”

But the only moratorium bill that has made it to a floor vote this year – AB 1323 by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City – was defeated in a 24-37 Assembly vote in May.

California must act now, Pavley said by email later Wednesday.

“Companies are fracking and acidizing wells in California now, and we can’t afford to wait for another attempt at a moratorium to take action,” she said. “Strict regulations are our best tool right now to protect the public and the environment and hold the industry and regulators accountable.”

Pavley’s bill would establish a regulatory program for hydraulic fracturing and acid-injection methods of extracting oil and gas, including a study, development of regulations, a permitting process, and public notification and disclosure.

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Yet opponents say SB 4 “does nothing to make fracking any less dangerous,” per Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch.

Victoria Kaplan, a campaign director with MoveOn.org, told reporters that public opinion against fracking is building steadily in California. “The more people learn about fracking, the more they hate it – that’s what we’re seeing this summer.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said fracking not only “endangers the air we breathe and the water we drink,” but also would set back California’s efforts to roll back climate change. Not only does the fracking process release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – but burning the oil that it produces from the Monterey Shale will generate more than 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, she said.

SB 4 is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Activists plan to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures Thursday to committee chairman Mike Gatto’s and Assembly Speaker John Pérez‘s offices, urging them to add an immediate moratorium on fracking to SB 4.

This is only the latest such petition: MoveOn.org says more than 120,000 people have signed various petitions to ban fracking in California.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.