Influencers Opinion

Should California ban all oil drilling and fracking? Depends on who you ask

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The Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee, San Luis Obispo Tribune and Merced Sun-Star will focus on the policy challenges that most affect our community and our future.

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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California Influencers this week answered the following the question: What would be the benefits and downsides to a complete ban on oil drilling and fracking in California? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

Keep the end in mind: healthy communities, economies and ecosystems

Michael Mantell - President of the Resources Legacy Fund

California’s commitment to transitioning to 100 percent clean energy requires a thoughtful and measured approach. Ultimately, what we are aiming for is healthy communities, thriving ecosystems, and a prosperous economy. An immediate ban on drilling and fracking without a carefully crafted plan could result in negative near-term consequences that disrupt local job markets while having little impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Decreases in Californians’ demand for fossil fuels must drive reductions in production. Incentives to promote individual ownership of hybrid and zero-emission vehicles is a good example. Real progress, however, will require aggressive incentives to stimulate a comprehensive transition to clean energy across all income levels and business sectors. We need to prioritize solutions in communities that will experience the most benefit, particularly related to public health, as quickly as possible; use regulatory tools to eliminate carbon-intensive oil production practices and incentivize the retirement of oil fields; and build on prior success in stopping the expansion of offshore production. Simultaneously, we need to continue strengthening environmental protections to ensure that California’s shrinking oil production is coupled with consolidating the state’s refining capacity to ensure clean and safe communities, oceans, and water supply.

A ban would be devastating economically and environmentally

Catherine Reheis-Boyd - President of the Western States Petroleum Association

There is no benefit to a ban. Rather, a ban would be devastating to California economically and environmentally:

  • A ban means the loss of livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of Californians. There is no “just” transition for families devastated by being uprooted from their communities and forced to change careers.
  • A ban forces California to be 100% dependent on shipping from foreign sources with far less stringent environmental standards. However, even that environmentally-costly approach will not work. Our state is an energy island and does not have the infrastructure and port capacity to import 100% of our energy.
  • A ban won’t reduce California’s energy demand, so people will suffer at the pump. Bans only limit consumer access to fuel, resulting in higher energy costs. A new study based on U.S. Energy Information Administration data found costs of a ban could be as “low” as $0.60 or as high as $2.33 per gallon.

Oil and natural gas will remain a vital part of California’s energy mix for the foreseeable future, renewable energy alone cannot meet our demands. Let’s start with that fact and work together on a sustainable energy future.

“We owe it to our children to dig in and fight”

Kevin de Leon - State Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus

Humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels will be its downfall, unless we reverse course immediately. When clean, renewable energy is an option – and it is – allowing corporations to continue mining our planet for oil is nothing more than an exercise in self-destruction. California has always been a world leader in the clean energy space, inspiring governments around the world to start abandoning fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources of energy that make our air cleaner and our communities healthier. An unequivocal ban on oil drilling and fracking in the Golden State state would likely have a similar effect on a global scale. We owe it to our children to dig in and fight for the longevity of our own species, and countless others.

“That would be a pretty drastic measure”

James Gallagher - California State Assemblyman (R-Yuba City)

That would be a pretty drastic measure that would really only appease those whose believe the world is ending in 10 years. Natural gas is an important energy resource and the technology used to extract it is safe. Yes there needs to be proper oversight and regulation to ensure protection of the environment and that there is no impact on our groundwater. But a ban would most certainly spike our energy costs and would reduce local and state revenues. It would also eliminate good paying blue collar jobs in the State. It would be a lose-lose proposition.

“we must be mindful of the workers dependent on these jobs”

Ben Allen - California State Senator (D-Santa Monica)

A complete ban on drilling in California would help our aquifers and reduce drilling-related environmental carcinogens and accidents. It also, however, would disrupt an important part of our economy, impacting a lot of jobs. The climate crisis demands that we transition from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy, though we must be thoughtful. Reputable economists have debunked the myth that decreasing oil production here will increase gas prices. Rapid cost declines have made utility-scale solar and offshore wind cheaper than a new coal plant, even without subsidies. But as we transition to cleaner energy, we must be mindful of the workers dependent on these jobs by providing job retraining and transitioning services. Nationally, clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuels by 5:1. These are clearly the jobs of the future, but we must ensure a just transition to that future for everyone. Approximately 70% of Californians oppose offshore oil drilling. Even with the safety procedures we have put in place, terrible oil spills continue. In 2015, a pipeline break near Santa Barbara resulted in dangerous and disgusting oil-based “tar balls” on the beach in my district in Los Angeles. Given the uptick in fracking-related seismic activity in places like Oklahoma, plus concerns over drinking water, air quality and human health, unless we feel more confident that fracking isn’t negatively impacting our environment and seismic safety, we shouldn’t be fracking.

“The transition away from carbon-intensive industries must invest in workers”

Lea Ann Tratten - Partner at TrattenPrice Consulting

Fossil fuel production in California is part of the global climate crisis. To slow degradation of our environment, greenhouse gas policy has to look at consumption as well as production. Millions of gas-powered vehicles remain on the roads – and that will not change overnight as the cost and availability of cleaner vehicles currently puts them out of reach for many Californians. A phase-out of drilling must be accompanied by a mandate to convert to electric vehicles and requirements to procure alternate clean energy. Finally – and importantly – we have to realize that the transition away from carbon-intensive industries must invest in workers who depend upon these industries for their livelihood.

“The downsides of banning oil drilling and fracking are immediate and politically painful”

Karen Skelton - Founder and President of Skelton Strategies

The downsides of banning oil drilling and fracking are immediate and politically painful. Jobs: According to the Los Angeles County economic Development Corporation, the oil and gas industry in California supports 368,000 jobs. These jobs provide millions to the state general fund in tax revenue. For families, they have provided a middleclass opportunity for generations, including for my father, whose dad worked in the Shell Oil Fields outside Ojai, California. The oil and gas jobs are critically important where they are geographically concentrated, in places like Kern County, which produces more oil that any county in the United States and at the same time has one of the highest poverty rates in California at over 22%. Take away these jobs, increase poverty.

Beyond jobs, any effort to ban would be met with significant opposition, as the California oil industry spent over $26 million in the 2017-18 legislative session.

The upside of a complete ban over time is simple: protecting mankind’s existence on planet earth.

“California needs a diverse mix of in-state energy sources”

Rob Stutzman - Founder and President of Stutzman Public Affairs

We’re already overly dependent on out-of-state and foreign energy imports. California imports about 73 percent of our oil, 91 percent of our natural gas and 30 percent of electricity from other states and foreign countries to satisfy demand. California needs a diverse mix of in-state energy sources, an “All-of-the-Above” energy strategy, which supports the development of every source of in-state energy including renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and traditional energy sources like oil and natural gas to increase California’s resiliency.

Leave It in the ground

Jim Newton - Editor in Chief of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine

Ending all drilling in California would send a clear signal that this state has turned the corner on climate change, that people here recognize reliance on fossil fuels needs to end soon, so why not now? Yes, it would be more gesture than substance, since the rest of the world isn’t there yet. But California is committed to leadership on this issue, and leaders are supposed to lead.

“To enact a complete ban on oil production here would be unwise”

Dave Puglia - Executive Vice President of the Western Growers Association

The U.S. became a net exporter of petroleum last year, and energy companies operating here played a significant role in achieving that measure of energy independence even with the higher production costs required to meet California regulatory requirements. Looking ahead, renewable energy mandates such as California’s, along with market forces (including growing consumer demand for electric cars), make it reasonably certain that petroleum will steadily decline as a component of our national energy portfolio. Nonetheless, to enact a complete ban on oil production here would be unwise. As Gov. Newsom told the Los Angeles Times in April, “One cannot just turn off the switch.” That’s because hundreds of thousands of Californians are employed in the energy industry, including researchers and scientists driving cleaner technologies. It would also be unwise to summarily dismiss the major investments made by energy companies to meet California’s regulatory mandates; doing so would signal to other industries that investing to meet ever-changing California policy mandates may not be a wise long-term strategy. The better course is to incentivize continuing investment in technology innovation to further reduce the impacts of oil production, even as petroleum fades over time.

“A multi-pronged approach is needed”

Bernadette Del Chiaro - Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA)

California would benefit from reduced oil spills, cleaner air and the protection of precious local water resources if we were to establish a complete ban on all oil drilling and fracking in the state. To the extent that California would still import fossil fuels for the majority of its energy supplies, the downside would be the export of these environmental impacts to other states and countries. However, by taking such a decisive move against fossil fuels, California would send a clear signal to investors and consumers alike that the state was serious about getting off of fossil fuels and shifting to clean alternatives. Given the urgency of the environmental problems facing us today, a multi-pronged approach is needed: phasing out what is no longer serving the public good and accelerating the superior alternatives like solar, wind and electric vehicles.

“I see literally zero benefit to banning oil drilling and fracking in California”

Kristin Olsen - Stanislaus County Supervisor

I see literally zero benefit to banning oil drilling and fracking in California, unless we are okay with driving thousands of people into unemployment and increasing our reliance on foreign oil. We should continue to promote the growth of renewable energy alternatives, but that full transition must take place over time – not forced prematurely by banning jobs that cause both people and the strength of our economy and national security to suffer.

“California should focus on reducing demand for petroleum and natural gas”

V. John White - Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies

California should focus on reducing demand for petroleum and natural gas, deepen our investments in energy efficiency, public transit and non-motorized mobility, and substitute renewable electricity and renewable hydrogen for gasoline, diesel, and natural gas across our economy. We should plan the orderly phase-out of oil drilling, beginning with urban areas and wells near disadvantaged communities. No new fracking should be allowed, and existing wells should be upgraded to prevent leaks and waste discharge into groundwater.

A crucial part of the phase-out plan must be a just transition for workers and communities dependent on oil and gas production and the state’s oil refineries, which produce more gasoline, diesel and jet fuel than California consumes. California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard and state government support for advanced zero-carbon technologies should be strengthened and expanded to accelerate the introduction of electric and fuel-cell vehicles and low- and zero-carbon liquid fuels. Expanded infrastructure investments and the deployment of renewable fuels and advanced vehicles will stimulate billions of dollars in economic investment and thousands of new jobs, and create a sustainable economy that can help California mitigate the more catastrophic effects of climate change.

“We can’t do something just because it’s politically expedient”

Bob Hertzberg - California State Senator (D-Van Nuys)

No matter what, we need some kind of energy source to service our economy. Turning away from drilling and fracking could certainly help us transition to cleaner energy sources that could be developed locally, with tremendous economic and job benefits. There is great potential there – but it is all lost if the transition is hasty. Without job training and a community impact program, a change like this would have a devastating impact on some of our communities, particularly in the Central Valley. Just like so many disruptive changes in our new economy, we can’t do something just because it’s politically expedient – we have to do the homework and plan for the unexpected, and make sure the alternative we present is actually better for Californians.

Turn the downsides up

Danielle Osborn Mills - Director of American Wind Energy Association of California; Principal at Renewable Energy Strategies

Given the urgency for action against climate change, we need practical near-term actions to reduce greenhouse gases along with more fundamental, longer-term transitions. To minimize the impact of future climate emergencies, we can turn some of the challenges associated with this transition into opportunities. We need new infrastructure to decarbonize – new transmission to access renewable sources of energy and new charging infrastructure to bring that renewable power to California’s drivers. A recent report from California’s Air Resources Board noted that California’s electricity sector is now roughly 50% carbon-free, which shows the promise and viability of renewable energy as an affordable step in the transition away from fossil fuels; but it also shows that half of our grid still runs on fossil generation. There is more work to be done. Further, the transportation sector contributes four-times the carbon emissions of the electricity sector. One way to minimize the impact of the transition away from carbon is to establish training and apprenticeship programs in clean energy and create highly-skilled, good-paying jobs throughout the region that allow us to modernize our grid and electrify our buildings and vehicles. I envision a future where communities from Eureka to Imperial have the opportunity to be a part of the solution, without having to compromise their livelihoods or their lifestyles.

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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