Fighting the frack

Fracking has quietly gone on in California for decades—though you wouldn’t know it. The scale of fracking, and controversy around it, have been slight compared to what’s gone on back East.

Now environmental groups and some state legislators are pushing for new rules on fracking in California. State Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski wants companies to disclose what chemicals are in the “frack fluid” companies pump into the ground to break up rock and release gas and oil. State Sen. Fran Pavley wants companies to tell neighboring landowners before fracking occurs, and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler wants a moratorium on all fracking until new rules are written.

State regulators with the California Department of Conservation brought their “listening tour” to Sacramento on July 25—in order to hear from environmental and industry groups, and regular citizens, on whether to regulate and what sorts of restrictions to impose.

“Our position is very simple: Ban fracking now,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director with Environment California.

This year, for the first time, the United States produced as much electricity from natural gas as it does from coal. The online environmental magazine Grist noted last week that the natural-gas boom, combined with the recession, contributed to a 2-percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions last year.

According to the USEPA, electricity production using natural gas emits about half of the CO2 per megawatt hour of a coal-fired plant, and about a third of the polluting nitrogen oxides, another more potent greenhouse gas. But many environmentalists are buying the notion of natural gas as a “transition fuel.”

“Once we’re addicted to natural gas, the industry will just throw up new barriers to renewable sources,” said Jacobson.