After publicly endorsing the measure to ease its passage in the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill establishing a permitting system for hydraulic fracturing in California, the governor's office announced this afternoon.
Brown took the unusual step of declaring his support for the bill with final legislative votes still pending, and on Friday he followed through by signing Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.
In a signing message, Brown said he would seek additional "clarifying amendments" to the legislation and would direct the California Department of Conservation "to develop an efficient permitting program for well stimulation activities that groups permits together based on factors such as known geologic conditions and environmental impacts, while providing for more particularized review in other situations when necessary."
Fracking, the shorthand name for hydraulic fracturing, extricates energy locked in underground formations with a pressurized blast of sand, chemicals and water.
In addition to mandating permits for new fracking wells, the bill strengthens groundwater monitoring while requiring energy companies to notify neighboring communities when they plan to frack and to release more information about the chemicals they use. Energy companies fought Pavley's attempt to win more disclosure, saying the recipe for the particular mix of fracking chemicals they use qualify as trade secrets worthy of protection.
Several Democratic lawmakers authored bills this session to regulate fracking. But while the governor's signature would appear to mark a major victory for environmental groups, prominent California environmental advocates -- a list of groups that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters -- abandoned the bill as it headed toward a final vote in mid-September.
Late amendments weakened the bill unacceptably, environmentalists said, diluting language intended to ensure new wells go through adequate environmental review. While oil industry representatives had said the regulation is unnecessarily burdensome, environmentalists said it would give oil companies nearly unfettered freedom to drill.
Brown has a tenuous relationship with environmentalists, which his signature on the fracking bill is only likely to strain further.
PHOTO: Fracking wells run day and night off Jack and Shafter Roads in Shafter, California on June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.