There are three ways to look at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently announced phase-out of fracking and the desire to end all oil production in California.
The first two are both credible and the third is a fact.
First, it’s in Newsom’s DNA to be the first to do things, like issuing a statewide stay-at-home order at the start of the pandemic. He is now the first governor to consider banning oil production.
It also reaffirms the Governor of California – be it Newsom, Jerry Brown or Arnold Schwarzenegger – as the state’s main executive in the fight against climate change. Newsom sincerely seems to believe that fossil fuels are crippling the planet, just like its predecessors.
Second, it is a political spectacle. Newsom is protecting his left flank, trying to keep progressive Democratic voters in line as he fights the Republican-led recall attempt. He doesn’t want another viable Democrat with governorship ambition to sense an opening and enter the recall race. Its objective is to close this door.
Third, whatever the governor’s motive, shutting down oil production would be a historic game changer. California’s economy in the 20th century, especially before World War II, relied heavily on oil.
As the late historian Kevin Starr wrote in “California,” one of his many books on the state: “Oil, in fact, created the industrial infrastructure of Southern California starting in the 1890s … .
“The Los Angeles Basin alone in 1924 produced 230 million barrels of crude oil…. Pumps and derricks were everywhere, stretching out into the ocean itself.
“The climate crisis is real,” Newsom said, announcing its goal of ending all oil extraction by 2045. “As we strive to rapidly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our people. kids… I don’t see a role for hydraulic fracturing… And, likewise, I think California needs to go beyond oil. “
California’s oil production peaked in 1986 and has since declined by more than two-thirds, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
For decades, we were the third largest oil producing state. But we went to seventh place. Texas is by far the biggest.
“Our decline is because we are not allowed to reverse the decline,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn, based in Sacramento. “There’s a shipment of crude oil in California and we’ve locked it in rock. California policies do not allow us to produce it. “
Unlocking the rock is the role of fracturing.
Newsom has emerged as reckless about the controversial technique of oil drilling. He proclaimed his opposition to fracking, but first insisted that a governor was powerless to ban it.
But the governor did not use his considerable political muscle to impose a fracking ban on the Legislature. A Senate committee killed a bill last month that would have banned hydraulic fracturing. It would also have required a 2,500-foot buffer zone between the oil wells and homes, schools and health facilities so that people could avoid breathing toxic air.
The oil industry and the unions fought vigorously against this measure. It is the job that wields the most influence among Democrats and it has persuaded members of the Democratic Committee to scuttle the measure.
Shortly after the legislative committee buried the bill, Newsom overturned and used his power as governor to order that no new state fracking permits be issued from 2024.
Banning oil production will not be as simple as issuing a decree.
Reheis-Boyd says there are 150,000 jobs in the oil industry in California with average salaries exceeding $ 100,000 a year. It won’t be easy to find jobs paying so much to work on solar panels or windmills.
The fate of oil production should be regulated in the market by consumer demand, rather than by government decision.
At the very least, lawmakers and voters should be involved in such a historic decision.
George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.