Dianne Feinstein supports fracking regulation bill

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday endorsed a controversial state bill that would regulate but allow “fracking” and another new means of extracting oil and gas.

“The discovery that fracking and acidization of oil and gas formations could produce approximately 23.9 billion barrels of petroleum in the continental United States — 64 percent of which is estimated to lie within the Monterey Shale formation underlying portions of Central and Southern California — points to the need for action to ensure protection of the state’s natural resources,” said Feinstein, D-Calif.

SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, would require the state Secretary of Natural Resources to work with state and regional water boards and the state air board to create regulations governing “well stimulation” treatments, which includes hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as “fracking” – and acidization.

The bill also would require permits for all well-stimulation treatments, disclosure of the fluids used in such procedures, advance notification of neighbors near where such methods will be used, and more.

Opponents of the bill say the only way to protect California from fracking’s environmental threats is to halt it entirely with a moratorium. SB 4 now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

“I strongly support Senator Pavley’s legislation and urge the legislature to pass the bill and Governor Brown to sign it,” Feinstein said. “Unless the potential dangers of fracking are addressed, we face the possibility of catastrophic consequences to the state’s environment and precious groundwater.”


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.


Activists plan anti-fracking day of action

Opponents of using hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – to access hard-to-reach oil and natural gas are planning actions Thursday at assemblymembers’ offices around California.

Activists organized by MoveOn.org will deliver petitions in 13 Assembly districts, marking the launch of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition of 70 organizations advocating for a ban.

“The gutting of Holly Mitchell’s fracking moratorium bill [AB 1323] and the blocking of Richard Bloom’s bill [AB 1301] by Assembly leadership ignores the will of the voters of California who have made their voices heard with thousands of phone calls and petition signatures. What we demand is a ban on fracking to protect our health,” said Aura Walker, a Culver City mother, whose petition on MoveOn.org’s petition platform has been signed by more than 35,000 people. “California is already earthquake prone. Additionally, poisonous gases will permanently pollute many precious aquifers, irreversibly poisoning our drinking water.”

In the South Bay, activist Ann Benson of Portola Valley will lead the delivery of a local petition at noon to the Los Altos office of Assemblyman Richard Gordon, urging him to support a fracking ban. At the same time, Dorothy Hann of San Ramon will lead the delivery of a similar petition to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan in San Ramon.

And the nascent Californians Against Fracking group plans a noon rally outside the state office building at 455 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco, as well as one at the same time in Los Angeles. Both will be delivering petitions to Gov. Jerry Brown’s offices.

Environmentalists have taken Brown to task after the governor in March said California should examine fracking to capitalize on the Monterey shale deposit, which the U.S. Energy Department has estimated could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil — about 64 percent of the nation’s shale oil resources. As some legislative Democrats sought bans, Brown had said the technology shouldn’t be rejected out of hand.

“We want to get the greenhouse gas emissions down, but we also want to keep our economy going. That’s the balance that’s required,” he said at the time. “The fossil fuel deposits in California are incredible; the potential is extraordinary. But between now and development lies a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

UPDATE @ 5:07 P.M.: The California State Senate voted 27-11 this afternoon to pass SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, which would require public noticing before fracking can take place, permits, disclosure of chemicals and an independent scientific study of fracking and its risks to California, among other provisions. “I am pleased my colleagues want to hold oil well operators accountable and answer critical questions about groundwater quality, water supply, earthquakes and air quality,” Pavley said in a news release. “We must protect California from risks to our economy, public health and safety and environment.”


Silicon Valley biofuel company gets $2.5m grant

A Silicon Valley company is getting a $2.5 million federal grant to develop a pilot-scale “biorefinery” that will make jet fuel out of switchgrass.

The Energy Department announced the grant to Cobalt Technologies of Mountain View as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to find and use alternative fuels to lower costs and improve performance.

“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”

Domestic oil and gas production has increased each year the President has been in office, the Energy Department notes, but at the same time the administration is seeking other ways to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. According to the Energy Department’s Billion Ton Study, advanced biofuels could replace about one-third of the nation’s current transportation petroleum use.

The grant to Cobalt is part of an $18 million investment in four projects across the country in which pilot-scale biorefinery projects will use various non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. Recipients must contribute at least 50 percent matching funds for these projects.

Partnered with the Naval Air Warfare China Lake Weapons Division, Show Me Energy Cooperative and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cobalt intends to build a pilot-scale facility to purify and convert butanol made from switchgrass into jet fuel. The company will both evaluate the process’ efficiency and its greenhouse-gas emissions.


Former Senator joins Stanford energy think tank

Former U.S. Senator and Stanford Law School alumnus Jeff Bingaman will join Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance to develop policies to help states and local communities promote increased use of clean energy.

Jeff BingamanThe Steyer-Taylor Center for is a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and the Graduate School of Business to study and advance the development and deployment of clean-energy technologies through innovative policies and financial mechanisms. Dan Reicher, formerly of Google, the clean-energy investment sector, and the U.S. Department of Energy, is the center’s executive director.

Bingaman will focus on helping 29 states (including California) plus the District of Columbia extend and update their Renewable Portfolio Standards – policies to promote increased generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. Seven other states have adopted voluntary goals for generation of electricity from renewable sources.

Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who spent 30 years in the Senate, was the lead champion of the Clean Energy Standards Act of 2012, which would have required greater use of low-carbon energy sources. He served as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

During his appointment as a distinguished fellow from April 2013 to April 2014, he’ll assess the status of current RPS programs and try to determine what policies might be adopted to update and improve those programs.

“Senator Bingaman will bring unparalleled policy and finance experience to the work of the center at a moment when energy is on the national and international agenda like never before,” Reicher said in a news release.

Bingaman will collaborate with the Environmental Law Clinic within the Mills Legal Clinic, which provides law students with hands-on experience in policy work on environmental and energy issues and in client representation. In addition, the former Senator will provide research opportunities to other law students, business school students, and also collaborate with energy scholars throughout campus, including at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy.


Anti-pipeline protesters to target Obama in SF

CREDO and other groups intend to protest outside President Obama’s fundraiser next Wednesday evening in San Francisco to send a message that if he’s serious about fighting climate change he must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

They’ll be targeting the $32,500-per-person Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising dinner that Obama is headlining along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty, at Broadway and Baker Street in the Pacific Heights district.

Activists say the controversial pipeline project would accelerate climate change by speeding tar sands development and exporting dirty tar sands oil from Canada to foreign countries. Other organizations taking part in the protest include 350.org, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club.

CREDO in 2011 turned out over a thousand people at President Obama’s re-election campaign fundraiser in San Francisco, shortly before he first delayed his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.