Opponents of “fracking” oil recovery staged a small Capitol demonstration Thursday, demanding that Gov. Jerry Brown ban it before jetting to Paris for a climate change conference.
“Gov. Brown has stood by as oil companies continue to employ dangerous drilling methods …” their manifesto declared.
It was the latest manifestation of Brown’s complex – slippery, one might say – relationship with oil over his half-century in public life.
As Brown was beginning that career in the mid-1960s, his father, Pat Brown, was leaving the governorship and launching his post-political life as an adviser to and eventual business partner of the Indonesian military dictatorship’s oil company.
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In return for helping state-owned Pertamina obtain billions of dollars in American bank loans (on which it later reneged), Pat Brown was given a lucrative concession to import Pertamina oil into California.
He shared its proceeds with his offspring, although it’s never been clear whether Jerry Brown received a share.
What is clear, however, is that after winning the governorship in 1974, the junior Brown, through emergency regulations, kept Indonesian oil flowing into California just as then-new shipments of oil from Alaska were becoming competitive.
Moreover, when Pat Brown sought legislation to fast-track a coastal terminal for liquefied natural gas from Pertamina, Jerry Brown backed him to the hilt.
During his second governorship, Brown’s been a sharp-tongued critic of fossil fuel as the major factor in climate change.
However, he’s done nothing to curb production in California, the nation’s third-largest domestic source of oil.
Brown cracked down on his own regulatory agency when oil producers in Kern County complained and he angered anti-fracking activists by signing legislation allowing the practice to continue under new rules.
Furthermore, they complain that the rules are being fast-tracked without fracking’s impacts being fully known.
“If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or boat,” Brown explained on “Meet the Press.”
Nevertheless, Brown issued a “call to arms” to sharply reduce fossil fuel at a Vatican climate change symposium – to which he traveled aboard a private jet. And in recent weeks he’s been a vociferous, even profane, critic of the oil industry for opposing legislation that would have required California to reduce petroleum use in automobiles by 50 percent by 2030.
The industry mounted an expensive lobbying campaign against it and Brown was compelled to drop the mandate to save the remainder of his carbon reduction bill.
His ambivalence about oil, however, did not stop him from asking his Department of Conservation last year to assess the oil and gas potential of his 2,700-acre family ranch in Colusa County.
It came back as having no potential, so Brown is not likely to become an oil baron in his old age.