The boogeyman of oil extraction — hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking” — was the subject of a public hearing put on by the Assembly Select Committee on Coastal Protection last Friday. Billed as an information-gathering session, the hearing focused on a documented lack of coordination and cooperation between federal regulators and their state counterparts and featured testimony from environmental activists who have lobbied for more robust oversight since the recent discovery that fracking has occurred off Santa Barbara’s shoreline.
“We have been ground zero, apparently, for experimenting in offshore fracking,” said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who sits on the committee with Assemblymembers Das Williams and Mark Stone. “For a process that has such significant environmental impacts, we need to have more data, more updated data, and the State of California is entitled to be part of that discussion.” Noting that it took nine months for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) to respond to his letter of concern last summer, Williams said the explanation he received for asking why state officials weren’t notified of the divisive drilling technique was, “‘We’ve long treated these unconventional techniques as conventional techniques.’” Williams disagreed. “These are not conventional techniques,” he said.
But a panel of energy industry experts argued Friday that the government’s current level of fracking oversight is sufficient and that any additional rules — like those included in Senate Bill 4 — would amount to overkill. “The regulations that apply to both federal and state waters are comprehensive,” said Peter Candy, with Santa Barbara law firm Hollister & Brace. “There are no regulatory gaps that I can see.” Candy, an area resident, said his opinion came not from a connection to the petroleum and gas industry but a vested interest in the Santa Barbara Channel. “I’m not interested in swimming and surfing in waste from hydraulic fracturing,” he said, “but I personally am not concerned.”