Letters for the Week of September 25

Readers sound off on fracking legislation, surveillance, and Oscar Grant.

Lawmakers Should Reject Fracking Bill SB 4,” Seven Days, 9/11

Regulations Are Toughest

As the California Assemblymember representing Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro, I would like to address and correct some recent misinformation about Senate Bill 4, authored by my colleague, Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
Let me start by making it clear that hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” has been happening for over half a century in California without any regulations whatsoever. It is happening now. Acidization and other oil field practices have also been occurring for a number of years without regulations.  SB 4 is a bill that would — for the first time — regulate fracking, acidization, and other oil field practices. The article misstates how the law will work, and, as someone who voted for the bill, I would like to clarify some of the bill’s provisions to help educate the community and ensure clarity and accuracy of information.

SB 4 is critical for the protection of our water and air resources, and the safety of our communities. Currently, there are no regulations regarding oil well stimulation. SB 4 would create, for the first time, comprehensive regulations for both of these techniques. In addition, again for the first time, starting January 1, 2014, companies will need to comply with requirements including groundwater monitoring, full chemical disclosure, and notification to all neighbors of any oil well stimulation activity. SB 4 clearly and indisputably makes significant progress from the status quo.
The article inaccurately stated that the bill “could allow state regulators to ignore aspects of the state’s main environmental law — the California Environmental Quality Act.” Contrary to this misrepresentation, SB 4 does not undermine the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and still requires a thorough environmental review. Under SB 4, CEQA remains intact and CEQA’s requirements, including environmental impact reports, must still be complied with. In addition, the savings clause in SB 4 specifically provides that the bill will not preempt additional review or mitigation required by Governor Brown, state agencies, courts or local governments in accordance with other laws, regulations or orders.

The column also stated that the bill “could require state regulators to green-light all fracking requests by oil and gas companies in California until at least July 1, 2015.”  Not so. In fact, even before the regulations are finalized, fracking activities may only continue if all environmental regulations are met in advance. The savings clause also ensures that the interim certification is just a minimum standard, a “floor” if you will, that does not prevent further restrictions — including barring these activities entirely — by state regulators, Governor Brown, the courts, or local governments.
Up to this point, regulators have been green-lighting these oil field activities without any oversight or regulation. SB 4 brings this free-for-all to an end. The bill is an important first step to regulate these activities and provide more information while allowing for — and providing data to support — additional restrictions in the future.  

With the passage of SB 4, California will have some of the toughest fracking regulations in the country, taking on a leadership role in the protection of our communities and our environment. We know that our environment is precious. The people of California can no longer wait for protection of our communities and the environment. The best vehicle to ensure this protection is through SB 4.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta,
18th Assembly District, Oakland

Robert Gammon Responds

There are good reasons why several prominent environmental groups withdrew their support of SB 4 — as did I — after oil and gas lobbyists successfully pushed for last-minute amendments to the legislation. And it appears that Mr. Bonta either has failed to fully analyze those amendments or is now purposely misrepresenting them.

For the record: SB 4 requires state regulators to approve all fracking requests in California between now and July 1, 2015, when the state is scheduled to complete its environmental impact report (EIR) on the oil- and gas-extraction method — as long as well operators disclose to the state what chemicals they use (as my column stated). Here is the official state Senate analysis of this eleventh-hour amendment (page 4):

“Requires, while regulations are being developed [by January 1, 2015], DOGGR [Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources] to allow all well-stimulation treatment activities [including hydraulic fracturing] provided that various conditions are met, including the following:

The owner or operator of the well certifies compliance with the disclosure and notification requirements in the bill;

The owner or operator provides to DOGGR on or before March 1, 2015 a complete well history incorporating the disclosure information required in the bill; and

DOGGR conducts an EIR (to be completed by July 1, 2015) to provide the public with detailed information regarding any potential environmental impacts of well stimulation in the state.”

In addition, the last-minute changes gave DOGGR the sole power in the future to determine whether a fracking process abides by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Moreover, if a DOGGR “supervisor” determines that a particular fracking process is okay, then the oil or gas company will not have to mitigate environmental impacts. As my column noted, the problem with this amendment is that some DOGGR officials have historically had a cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry. As such, this amendment has the potential to undermine CEQA (as my column noted).

There is no dispute that SB 4 would create the first-ever regulations of fracking in California. That fact is why several environmental groups originally backed the measure. But the last-minute amendments have the potential to do more harm than good, and that’s why so many people (including me) withdrew their support. It’s disappointing that a state Assemblyman apparently didn’t bother to fully analyze those changes — and still does not understand them.

Media Needs to Call Out Brown

With regard to your excellent editorial, I would like to correct one thing. It was not the oil and gas industry that convinced Fran Pavley to make the changes, it was the Brown administration. The language was requested by Big Oil, but the ask came from Jerry Brown. At some point, the media needs to call out Brown, who pretends to be an environmentalist while at the same time trying to gut and even repeal CEQA.

Also, certain big green groups need to take some responsibility for this bill, which they pushed since its introduction. Anyone with any knowledge of the outsized clout of Big Oil, Brown’s desire for all those jobs and tax revenues that are supposed to come from fracking, and the totally underfunded, understaffed, and captured nature of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) should have seen this coming even before the amendments were added.

In June, I organized a petition drive to ask Pavley to withdraw her bill and fight for a ban instead. We got 20,000 signatures, which we delivered at a big rally in front of her district office. One hundred organizations in Californians Against Fracking, a coalition that supports nothing less than a ban on fracking, submitted a press statement saying regulations could not prevent the harms of fracking and we need an immediate moratorium.

Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Pavley and the big green groups had green-washed this bill to the media and the legislators. By the time the four sponsoring groups realized they’d been had, it was too late.

Also, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party deserve some blame as well. The Progressive Caucus actually worked hard to get a strong, conditions-based moratorium resolution passed at the Democratic Party Convention, and leaders of PDA had serious questions about SB 4. Unfortunately, they were strongly lobbied by one particularly loud and powerful chapter president who happens to be Pavley’s delegate to the state party convention. She even lobbied the Los Angeles County Democratic Party to endorse SB 4 the night after the big green groups withdrew their support. She effectively shut down any dissent and any action against this bill by Democratic activists. There is lots of blame to go around.

And now California will be fracked up. It is going to take a large committed group of grassroots activists to stop fracking in California, and we are going to need to work outside the legislative process. If you are interested in becoming a fractivist, please go to FoodandWaterWatch.org/california or call 510-922-0720 to find out more.

Lauren Steiner, Los Angeles

“We Are Being Watched,” Feature, 9/11

Mythical Level of Security

Cameras don’t decrease crime, so why are we so eager to adopt them, along with a plethora of other surveillance devices? It’s all about money: There’s a ton to be doled out to the security industrial complex by gullible, fearful politicians willing to sell our civil liberties for a few more votes and a few more PAC donations come the next election cycle. This mad desire to achieve a mythical and unattainable level of “security” has more to do with keeping politicians safe than it does the average citizen.

John Seal, Oakland

“Making Farmers’ Markets More Affordable,”
Food News, 9/11

Don’t Allow Cost Control

Another way to reduce farmers’ market costs would be to not allow management to control costs. At my local farmers’ market, the sellers are not allowed to give discounts on common products, such as grapes. I have seen the market manager come down hard on a seller who was giving a reduced rate to my wife on peaches more than an hour before closing.

Gary Baker, San Leandro

“A More Fitting Way to Honor Oscar Grant,”
Opinion, 9/4

Hyphenate It

I take BART from Fruitvale Station several times a week, and each time I think how appropriate it would be to have something — a plaque, a statue, a mural — marking the site of Oscar Grant’s tragic death. Kim Tran’s proposal to name the station itself after Mr. Grant is an even better idea.

BART’s requirement that station names be “geographically significant” is probably already met by people thinking of Fruitvale as “the place where Oscar Grant was killed by BART Police,” but go ahead and hyphenate it. And just think of the resonance of the simple announcement, “now approaching Oscar Grant-Fruitvale Station.”

Jeff Gillenkirk, San Francisco


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