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Lawmakers consider moratorium on oil fracking

Laura Olson, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Critics of hydraulic fracturing urged lawmakers Monday to support several bills that would impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, saying there is too much uncertainty about the health and environmental effects of the oil drilling practice.

More than two-dozen fracking opponents lined up to share their concerns at an Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing, where lawmakers were expected to vote on three bills that would prohibit fracking temporarily. The drilling technique involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into deep rock formations to release oil or natural gas.

One measure from Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, would halt the practice until an advisory panel analyzes the potential consequences.

Mitchell said scientific studies have shown a range of environmental and health effects, both positive and negative. Those mixed conclusions have left her constituents, who live near the Inglewood oil field in Los Angeles County, concerned and confused about whether fracking can be done safely.

"It says to me that we have a cause to pause," Mitchell said.

Representatives for the drilling industry defended the energy extraction efforts, telling lawmakers there have not been any negative environmental effects from fracking during decades of activity in California. About 80 percent of fracking in California occurs in uninhabited areas near Bakersfield, they said.

"For a moratorium to be introduced on something that has been safe for 60 years is something that I truly don't understand," said Paul Deiro, a lobbyist with the Western States Petroleum Association.

Fracking has drawn scrutiny in other states and has just recently become an issue of high interest in California. Oil companies are looking to expand production from the Monterey Shale formation, which stretches from Kern County north through the San Joaquin Valley. It is estimated to be one of the country's largest shale oil formations.

All three Assembly bills up for consideration are carried by Los Angeles-area Democrats.

AB1301 from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, of Santa Monica, would stop fracking until further legislation is enacted outlining how it can occur.

Two similar bills, AB1323 and AB649, call for creating an advisory committee to review health, environmental, economic and other effects. They also would recommend regulatory changes.

The bills from Mitchell and Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, of Sherman Oaks, would require state officials to decide by January 2019 if fracking should occur in California.

California was the third-largest oil producing state last year, behind Texas and North Dakota, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

State environmental regulators are crafting new rules for fracking, which currently is subject to the same rules as other drilling techniques. The California Department of Conservation released draft regulations in December, and agency officials say they hope to adopt final rules next year.