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Reviving an issue that dominated the environmental agenda in 2013, California lawmakers are calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing.

California is at work crafting regulations to govern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which well operators blast a potent mix of chemicals and water underground to shatter energy-trapping rock formations. The new guidelines will set up a permitting system, require more groundwater testing and force companies to disclose information about where they plan to frack and what chemicals they will use.

Those forthcoming regulations are the product of a new law passed last year. Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, was less stringent than other proposed fracking measures that would have halted the practice outright.

In the end, legislators sent Pavley's bill to Brown even as environmentalist groups forsook the legislation, saying it had been diluted to the point of ineffectiveness.

"I think almost everyone walked out of session feeling unsatisfied, so we want to make sure there is accountability on this industry," said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who last year carried an unsuccessful fracking bill.

Given concerns about the impacts of fracking on groundwater and public health, Levine said, he and three other Assembly members have sent Brown a letter asking for a statewide ban on fracking "until health and environmental concerns are addressed."

"Current studies show fracking threatens California's precious water supply, further disrupts our approach to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change, exacerbates our pollution problems, and the disposal of wastewater associated with fracking may increase seismic activity," the letter said.

In an interview with The Bee, Levine said he hoped the governor would defer continued fracking operations until regulators have finished the year-long process of laying down new fracking rules.

"I don't believe we have as much information as we need to continue allowing the oil industry to work unfettered before those regulations are in place," Levine said.

In response, a spokesman for the governor suggested that the letter's signatories focus on the unfolding regulatory process.

"After extensive debate, the legislature - including the authors of this letter - voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just 5 days ago," spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email. "Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate."

The fracking issue has increasingly become the lens through which disenchanted environmentalists view Brown. Protesting activists have dogged the governor at events throughout California since he signed Pavley's bill.

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 4 last year under the governor's auspices. Brown interceded as legislators were debating the bill, urging them to pass the measure and promising his signature.

PHOTO: A fracking facility with working wells sit as a backdrop to fieldworkers picking up potato's at the potato field on Madera Ave. near Mannel Ave on Monday afternoon in Shafter, California. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.



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