By Steven Tavares

Natural gas fracking drills like this could become more
common in California. The largest oil sands opportunity
 in the U.S. is located in Central California.

A bill offered by Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski hopes to regulate gas and oil companies utilizing fracking in California before they endanger the environment similar to recent reports in Texas and Pennsylvania where contaminants polluted surrounding well waters and topography.

The use of hydraulic fracturing to release gas and oil deposits trapped in sand and shale formations has increased in use as the drilling technique becomes cheaper with breakthroughs in technology. Energy companies typically blast water at high pressures to crack the formation freeing natural gas and oil deposits, but on some occasions, highly toxic chemicals are used, in addition to some radioactive compounds, which are not readily communicated with locals. Recently, ground water surrounding operations in Pennsylvania and Texas contaminated the areas.

Wieckowski’s bill would force energy companies to notify state regulators of specific chemicals used in fracking along with notifying residents within a mile radius of the drilling. An legislative analysis of the bill said, although California is the nation’s fourth largest producer of oil, the use of fracking in the state is low, but is expected to increase in future years because of advances in techniques.

One company, the report says has spent over $100 million to scout and drill 30 wells on an extensive patch of shale formations believe to contain large amounts of natural gas and oil stretching from Central to Southern California, known as the Monterey shale. It is believed to be the largest onshore shale opportunity in the United States, according to the analysis.

“Without this critical information drinking water that many Californians depend on could be polluted and we wouldn’t know until it was too late.,” said Wieckowski, who is also the chair of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. “This bill will prevent the kind of calamities that we are hearing about from fracking in Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.”

AB 591 faced its first test last Monday passing, 6-3, in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. It heads to appropriations for discussion likely in the next month.