California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s just-announced drilling moratorium is being called a heroic act by industry opponents, who seek to end oil production in California.
“This marks the turning of the tide against the oil industry, which has been allowed to drill at will in our state for more than 150 years,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Kassie Siegel, who ignores the extensive rules and oversight applied to the state’s oil industry.
Referring to a massive oil spill earlier this year in a Kern County westside field, Newsom’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot, called the drilling moratorium a response to a “crisis of oil leaks.” Rather, it is a response to Newsom’s “crisis of leadership” and a weak governor’s pandering to loud, ideologically-driven special interests.
Newsom’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, was nationally recognized as a proponent of progressive, green initiations. But Brown took a more measured approach to balancing oil industry and environmental needs.
Brown stiffened his back to resist pressure from oil industry opponents. He worked with the Legislature and industry to develop programs that allowed oil production to continue, while increasing oversight of producers and decreasing consumer demand for fossil fuels. One of Brown’s lasting legacies was Senate Bill 4, which now regulates the controversial oil producing method of fracking in California.
But our new governor last week caved to oil opponents’ pressure. He announced a moratorium on issuing state drilling permits involving fracking, as well as steam-enhancement, a common injection method used for decades to loosen and recover heavy oil from Kern County’s aging fields.
Newsom also called for an audit of the state’s permitting process; asked scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to study drilling permits and Kern County oil fields; removed the words “oil” and “gas” from the industry’s state oversight agency, which is now called the “Geologic Energy Management Division;” and announced workshops to develop more drilling regulations.
With his Natural Resources Secretary warning that the announced drilling moratorium “might be a really long pause,” Newsom contended he was taking “necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources.”
Newsom noted, “This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment and our economy.”
Meanwhile, investment in Kern County oil fields is expected to decrease. Already Berry Petroleum and California Resources Corp., two major Kern County oil producers, have seen their stock values plummet.
And Newsom’s response? Beyond a shrug, we have heard nothing about how he plans to soften the economic impacts of his drilling moratorium, or help Kern workers who likely will see paychecks disappear.
For perspective, consider some numbers. California is the sixth largest oil producing state in the nation, with about 72,000 wells that last year produced 165.3 million barrels of oil onshore and offshore. The oil industry helps support about 368,000 blue-collar jobs in California. Kern is the biggest producing county in the state.
California is home to 26 million vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, auto-dependent California consumes more gasoline than any other state in the nation.
So, despite the clamor for oil production in California to stop, consumer demand for oil will not. It will just mean California’s already high-cost of energy – or the sticker price at the pump -- will keep getting higher. Drilling moratoriums and eventually permanent closure of California’s oil fields will have no environmental benefits.
Bakersfield state Sen. Shannon Grove said it best when she noted that California’s thirst for oil will not be reduced a single barrel by Newsom’s moratorium. But it will result in more foreign oil being imported and more of California’s cash being exported.
Instead, Newsom should follow Brown’s lead. Work with oil companies to improve drilling operations and develop a real “measured approach” – an actual plan -- that considers the environmental, economic and personal consequences of transitioning California to less reliance on oil.