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fracking.jpgA closely watched bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing in California moved closer to the governor's desk on Wednesday, advancing out of the Assembly on a 53-18 vote.

Of the bills to regulate "fracking" that surfaced this session, only Senate Bill 4 remains.

Legislators pushing for tighter regulation of fracking, which involves shattering underground rock formations with a pressurized cocktail of water and chemicals, have cited the potential for a drilling boom in California's Monterey Shale.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, spoke of the "tremendous economic opportunity" that harvesting the tough-to-reach underground reserves would bring but spoke of the need to create a framework around a potential gold rush.

"Let's bring on the boom, and let's make sure the constituents are protected," Gray said.

SB 4, by Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley, would erect a permitting system, mandate groundwater monitoring and dictate more disclosure, including having fracking firms notify neighbors of planned wells and release more information about the chemicals they shoot underground.

The measure is less stringent than unsuccessful bills that would have sought a fracking moratorium, which some members vowed to continue seeking.

"I still believe that a moratorium is the best way to go with respect to fracking," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, "but this bill is the next best alternative."

In advocating for the bill, lawmakers have faulted the Department of Conservation entity responsible for overseeing drilling (the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, also known as DOGGR), for delaying in crafting fracking regulations and for floating anemic guidelines.

But Republicans opposing SB 4 argued that the Legislature should not try to supplant DOGGR's authority to release regulations, which they called sufficient. They implored their colleagues to reject the measure, which they said would handicap economic development, particularly in the energy-rich Central Valley.

"This bill is something that will stop or hurt jobs and economic growth in California," said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

The measure has already passed the Senate, where it will return for a concurrence vote before likely proceeding to Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor has a precarious relationship with environmentalists, some of whom accuse him of being overly lenient with the energy industry, so his decision will come under heavy scrutiny.

PHOTO: Workers tend a well head on March 29, 2013, during a hydraulic fracturing operation, also known as fracking, at an Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. gas well outside Rifle, in western Colorado. The Associated Press/Brennan Linsley


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