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State regulators consider new rules for 'fracking'

July 17, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hyrdraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is the process of fracturing soil and rock to pull oil and natural gas out of the ground. It's a controversial practice. There are pending bills in Sacramento that would eliminate or cut back on fracking. Wednesday a state commission held hearings on the issue.

California drivers know gas prices are unpredictable. The oil industry says it has the answer, and it's buried underneath what's called the Monterey Shale, a large geological formation that stretches hundreds of miles.

Potentially 15.5 billion barrels of oil, but a controversial drilling method called hydraulic fracturing may be needed to extract energy to the surface.

"If we could produce more of our oil domestically, we have a more secure supply of energy, and we should see much less volatility in the marketplace," said Tupper Hull, Western States Petroleum Assn.

Along with traditional drilling, fracking has already been going on in California for decades. Fracking frees oil and gas from rock by injecting chemicals under high pressure into the ground.

But with a dramatic expansion about to get underway, state regulators are on the verge of writing new rules.

After months of hearings they'll soon answer how much public notice companies should give before work starts, where chemicals being used should be disclosed, and who should be notified when accidents happen.

"The division is mandated to encourage the wise development of the state's resources for its citizens, and we do that in balance with the safety of the citizens," said Tim Kustic, California Oil and Gas supervisor.

But in other parts of the country, fracking, often for natural gas, has made headlines in recent years, mainly over the pollution of groundwater.

In the documentary film "Gasland" water was so polluted in one town that a man was able to light his tap water on fire.

Opponents in California have tried but couldn't get nine fracking measures through the Legislature this year, including a moratorium. Only one bill survived, and they feel it's weak.

"Really doesn't do anything to protect Californians' water, their health or their private property," said Adam Scow, Food and Water Watch. "So the only logical responsible step at this time is to put a moratorium on fracking, and Governor Brown should do that today."

With millions of new jobs and billions of tax revenue on the line, it's unlikely the state will want to stop the expansion of fracking in California even though a recent poll shows most voters in the state favor a moratorium.


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