On Monday, the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources passed three separate bills that would each place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The next stop for these bills is the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, then the bills may advance to the floor.
Each of the three bills would restrict fracking activities pending a determination of whether and under what conditions fracking may be conducted without risk to human health or the environment. Two of the bills, AB 1301 and AB 1323, would prohibit fracking anywhere in the state. The third bill, AB 649, would only prohibit fracking, as well as the use of clean freshwater for fracking purposes, within a yet to be determined distance of an aquifer.
Other than the scope of the prohibition on fracking, the requirements of AB 649 and AB 1323 are the same. Before the prohibited fracking activities could recommence, the bills would require an advisory committee, convened by the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency and the Secretary for Environmental Protection, to develop a report addressing potential health and environmental impacts of fracking, potential economic impacts of increased enhanced oil and gas recovery, potential effects on communities, a review of existing regulations and determination of whether they are adequate, and recommendations for emergency planning and regulations to address issues identified. The bills would require completion of the final report by January 1, 2018, and a determination of whether and under what conditions fracking may be conducted by January 1, 2019. However, the prohibition on fracking imposed by these bills would go into effect immediately.
AB 1301, in contrast to the other two bills, would prohibit fracking in the state until the Legislature, as opposed to the agencies, determines whether and under what conditions fracking may be conducted without risk to human health or the environment. AB 1301 is otherwise less detailed than AB 649 and 1323. AB 1301 does not indicate how and on what timeline the Legislature should determine whether and under what conditions fracking activities may recommence.
Under any of the three proposed bills, a fracking moratorium, at least within some distance of an aquifer, would be certain and the timeline for lifting that moratorium would likely be on a scale of years. If either AB 649 or AB 1323 are enacted as currently written, the best case scenario for lifting an imposed moratorium on fracking is probably January 1, 2019. Although it is possible that a determination regarding whether and under what conditions fracking may be conducted could occur before that deadline, that is unlikely, and it is more likely that the agencies would fail to meet that deadline and fracking activities would be further delayed. If AB 1301 is enacted, without a given timeline and without any detail regarding how the Legislature is to make a determination regarding the impacts of fracking, the results are even less certain.
The Assembly bills proposing a moratorium on fracking would have an effect on fracking operations sooner than their counterpart in the Senate. In contrast, the Senate bill, SB 4, would allow fracking activities until January 1, 2015, and would only prohibit fracking after that date if a study on its impacts is not completed (see April 11, 2013, post).