SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a major change in the fracking and oil industry in California. The governor issued an order phasing out new fracking in the state by 2024, while also pushing to end all in-state oil production by 2045.
Newsom said he will use his executive authority to take on the state’s powerful oil and gas industry during a year he will also likely face a recall election.
The move comes after an attempt earlier this year to ban the practice entirely by 2027. That initial attempt was shot down by legislators and now Newsom is floating the idea once again.
California is the 7th largest oil-producing state in the country and would become the largest state in America to ban fracking.
WHAT IS FRACKING?
The process of fracking begins by operators drilling deep into the ground, before a 90 degree turn to create a fracking well in the area known as the shale rock formation. Once this is complete, fracking fluid is then pumped into the well which causes the shale rock to crack and release the gas. The fracking fluid is 90% water with a mixture of sand, clay and either acid, slickwater and disinfectant. Around three to six million gallons of water is required for each well.
The production of natural gas has risen by 60% since 2008, currently producing at 91 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) and forming 37% of the US’ power generation. Of this, hydraulic fracturing now accounts for almost 80% of this production at the end of 2018, rising from about 10% from 2008.
This isn't the first time the governor has talked about making changes to fracking in California. During a visit to Kern County in January 2020 he said he understands that the impact banning fracking could have on Kern County.
Roughly 24,000 people work in Kern County's oil industry. A ban on fracking and oil extraction could drastically impact those jobs.
Environmental advocates oppose fracking citing its harm to the environment and public health.
It's no secret that oil and Kern County are linked together and in the face of a ban on related practices those changes could mean lots of adjustment for the community.
A big reason for that push is to help the environment but according to Cathy Reheis-Boyd from Western States Petroleum Association, stopping in-state oil production causes more harm than good.
"What it means is that if you propose that, you must be supporting the import of crude oil from Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. And you must also be supporting putting it on marine tankers going over sensitive waterways into the port of LA, Long Beach, and the Bay Area which are already congested. And you must also be saying that you are in support of rail traffic through sensitive communities."
Reheis-Boyd says she understands that the industry and the culture in the state are changing to embrace different modes of energy use and production, to some extent she says that regulation is necessary and welcome.
"Of course, as we know, this governor has not been shy on his intentions to phase out the oil and gas industry. And so this rumored release certainly whether it deals with hydraulic fracturing, which is really a well-stimulation technique to improve the ability of oil to flow from the underground to the surface, whether it's about that or whether it's about something broader that phases out all oil and gas production, it's really important that we talk about what that means to places like Kern County which is the 7th largest oil producer in the state of California. And what is really unfortunate, from my perspective, is this continued ignoring of science and facts, and to instead govern by what appears to be this philosophy of bans and mandates and fiats, which frankly one could deem as unlawful."
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WHY IS FRACKING BAD?
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is revolutionizing oil and gas drilling across the country. However, without rigorous safety regulations, it can poison groundwater, pollute surface water, impair wild landscapes, and threaten wildlife. Unfortunately, this process can go wrong, and if the oil or gas wells are not built sturdily enough, they can leak and contaminate groundwater. Hydraulic fracturing operations are already industrializing wild and rural landscapes, and putting agricultural and recreational economies at risk. Without rigorous safeguards, fracking could lead to poisoned water and blighted landscapes. Fracking also uses a lot of water. Each and every well requires millions of gallons of water – In arid places like the West, this could mean less water for fish and wildlife.
On the other side of the aisle, environmentalists are praising the governor for his actions. Dean Wallraff, the executive director for Advocates for the Environment, explained why these measures are so crucial to protecting California.
Despite the fact that an immediate change is not happening, Wallraff says it's still a good thing for the state. He also adds the benefits of banning fracking stretch far beyond environmental impacts and says, where fracking is prevalent so are health problems like asthma and cardiovascular disease.
He believes the governor's plan is the correct course of action to take. He acknowledges there are concerns about the loss of jobs but added that helping those workers transition into the renewable energy industry needs to be our next steps after the fracking ban.
"To develop regulations and pass them in order to be able to start not issuing permits for fracking starting in 2024. That's the main thing. It's not going to have an immediate impact. It's not itself a fracking ban," said Wallraff. "An important part of this process here and everywhere is finding what advocates call a just transition. Which means among other things that the workers need to get retrained. So that they can have high-paying good jobs with the skill set that they can reasonably acquire. So that may be in renewable energy. There's probably a lot of transferrable skill between oil production and putting up renewable energy facilities of one sort or another."
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23ABC also talked to Dean Ress, staff attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment about Governor Gavin Newsom's fracking ban announcement. He said in part: "We are very happy with the governor's order. We think in particular the managed decline is a really great step forward for California. We look forward to engaging with the governor to make it even stronger. We think that it needs to be a faster timeframe, which the order does allow. And we want to make sure that it really promotes communities and protects communities as well as possible. In particular, we really want to see 2,500-foot setbacks that protect communities and stop neighborhood drilling. And we would really like to see the governor come out with a moratorium on drilling in that distance immediately."
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But not everyone agrees with that. One local advocate for the oil and energy industry in Kern County says this ban is going to be devastating for the state and our local economy.
"The governor's order is irresponsible. It's not a databased energy policy. Unfortunately, this is another rushed executive decision that is going to raise energy costs and kill jobs here in Kern County," said Rachel Glauser of Kern Citizens for Energy. "This ban is going to hurt workers, going to hurt communities, small businesses. California is still the second-highest consumer of energy in the nation," "So while our governor bans the use of our own natural resources here, at the expense of Kern County workers, we are going to have to get that from somewhere. And it's going to continue to be from foreign countries, so why he continues to promote foreign oil that comes from countries that have terrible environmental standards and human rights standards instead of going to the oil and gas that's produced right here in kern county, is deeply concerning."
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Meanwhile, local lawmakers are also responding to the governor's announcement today on fracking. Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong issued the following statement: “This is out-of-touch behavior at its finest. These irresponsible energy policies are the reason why Californians pay the highest gas prices in the nation. Make no mistake, this is a direct attack on the Central Valley—this order kills our jobs, economies, and worsens everyone’s quality of life. California continues to go in the wrong direction with these tone-deaf decisions.”
And Democratic State Senator Melissa Hurtado also released a statement saying “The Governor’s actions could not come at a worse time for the Central Valley, which is already reeling from a drought that – together with this decision – may cause a national food crisis. Energy makes up 19 percent of the American food supply chain. Make no doubt the cost of food will increase and severely impact the health of vulnerable communities who are already struggling. We cannot repeat the food crisis of 1974. The potential consequences of a food crisis extend beyond the Central Valley and California. We can all do better and be part of the solution.”
Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute issued the following statement: “It’s historic and globally significant that Gov. Newsom has committed California to phase out fossil fuel production and ban fracking, but we don’t have time for studies and delays. Californians living next to these dirty and dangerous drilling operations need protection from oil industry pollution today. Every fracking and drilling permit issued does more damage to our health and climate.”
And another part of the local oil industry that the governor's ban could impact is the recent ordinance passed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors allowing for nearly 40,000 new oil and gas wells to be developed in the county by 2036.
A lawsuit was also filed last month that hopes to reverse the county's decision. Petitioners allege that the new wells will be a "disaster for public health... particularly low-income communities."
The lawsuit was filed by community and environmental groups including the Committee for a Better Arvin and the Committee for a Better Shafter.