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California should not issue permits for offshore fracking

An oil worker takes a ferry away from one of four artificial islands off Long Beach used for oil drilling. The state recently issued permits for fracking.
An oil worker takes a ferry away from one of four artificial islands off Long Beach used for oil drilling. The state recently issued permits for fracking. Associated Press file

The contrast couldn’t be more striking. Just as New York state banned fracking, California officials quietly issued nine offshore fracking permits in the wake of the state’s worst oil spill in 25 years.

These permits for fracking on oil islands off Long Beach harbor are the first in California waters since public controversy over the dangerous practice sent the industry on a hiatus. The permits add insult to injury considering Big Oil just coated the Santa Barbara coastline with crude and killed hundreds of birds, dolphins and other wildlife.

California and New York enjoy a healthy rivalry in many realms, but California is now playing catch-up on environmental leadership. Environmentalists and public officials in both states have pushed for fracking bans for many years, citing evidence of the significant dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing, which extracts more oil and natural gas from existing wells by blasting them with huge amounts of water and toxic chemicals.

In New York, regulators decided a ban was the only reasonable alternative given fracking’s impact on the environment and public health.

Yet California regulators recently approved the offshore fracking permits without acknowledging the growing public concern. Environmentalists are now urging Gov. Jerry Brown to reverse the decision before the fracking begins in August.

The last time Santa Barbara was coated in oil, not only did the state make offshore drilling leases off-limits, but the spill also sparked a national movement that led to our nation’s primary environmental laws. Offshore drilling and fracking is dangerous; it risks oil spills, water contamination, air pollution and earthquakes.

The governor should halt these fracking permits and come up with a plan to retire California’s aging oil rigs.

Gov. Brown has noted that California is setting the pace on responding to climate change. “We’re going to take whatever steps are needed to get the job done, because our future depends on it,” he told a conference in April as he announced new targets for reducing the state’s carbon emissions.

If the governor is serious about his climate leadership, then he needs to ban fracking.

Miyoko Sakashita is oceans director and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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