Gov. Jerry Brown studying up on fracking

Reporting from Goleta, Calif. -- Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that he was taking a closer look at a controversial method of oil extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as he seeks to help California maintain its role as one of the country’s top crude producers.

Speaking to business leaders at a renewable energy conference in Goleta, Brown said he was studying fracking, which oil companies are touting as a potential key to tapping previously unreachable deposits in the Golden State. Later, the governor told reporters he was planning a trip to oil-rich Kern County to meet with energy companies and environmentalists to discuss the procedure.

“I’ll be on top of it,” Brown said.

The comments come as lawmakers push legislation and environmentalists file lawsuits over an expansion of the process in California. The procedure has drawn the greatest attention in the Rocky Mountain West and in the Northeast, where states have debated moratoriums to develop regulations after toxic chemicals were found in nearby drinking water.

While California has yet to draw up any rules on the extraction method, in which operators inject chemical-laced water and sand into the ground to break apart rock and release oil and natural gas, Brown said oil companies have an incentive to be good environmental stewards.

“I don’t think any company wants to pollute the aquifer,” he told business leaders, “because we have trial lawyers in California — and a very vigorous tort system. So I think there’s a certain self-discipline that they can operate with the management of fracking issues.”

Brown declined to comment on legislation that would require oil companies to disclose where they frack, what chemicals they use and how much water they pump. He said the state already regulates oil drilling but that he was gathering more information on the procedure.

“I called up one of our lead oil companies and said, ‘What’s the story with fracking?’” Brown said. “They said, ‘Well, it’s not as bad as the environmentalists say, and it’s not as safe as the oil companies say.’”