Bills addressing earthquakes, methane pass Calif. Assembly committee

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"California lawmakers approved bills yesterday dealing with hydraulic fracturing's effect on seismic activity and methane emissions.

The Assembly Natural Resources Committee passed A.B. 1490 and A.B. 1501, both by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D), who represents part of Los Angeles. The committee approved both bills 5-3.

A.B. 1490 would put a moratorium on nearby fracking after an earthquake of 2.0 or greater in magnitude, until the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources determines that fracking does not heighten the risk of seismic activity. The bill does not yet specify how far a well could be located from the epicenter of the earthquake and still continue operations.

Current law requires well operators to cease operations after a magnitude-2.7 quake. The state had originally proposed a standard of magnitude 2.0 but increased it because California's network of earthquake sensors isn't precise enough to pinpoint such a small quake (EnergyWire, Oct. 10, 2014).

A.B. 1490 would also prohibit wastewater disposal wells and all well stimulation treatments within 10 miles of a fault that has been active in the past 200 years. While no earthquakes in California have been linked to fracking or wastewater injection, Rendon cited the U.S. Geological Survey's finding that an increase in seismicity has coincided with wastewater injection in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio.

The fact that California has hundreds of earthquakes per year doesn't mean that oil drilling operations don't play a role, Rendon said. He likened the argument to saying that "the fact there's been people dying for a long time means that car accidents don't cause death."

Oil industry opponents of the bill said that other states' experiences shouldn't necessarily apply to California.

"Trying to impose this new moratorium on well stimulation and wastewater treatment disposal just because there are other states that are doing this just doesn't hold water for California," said Brian White, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association.

A.B. 1501 would require the state Air Resources Board or local air districts to set and enforce emissions standards for methane emissions near fracking operations. It would require agencies to install equipment near well sites to monitor for methane and 11 other chemicals, including acetone, ethanol and propane.