Influencers Opinion

What would a complete ban on oil drilling and fracking mean for California?

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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If all goes according to plan, in about 25 years California will have eliminated the use of fossil fuels to meet its energy needs. But our state is currently one of the nation’s leaders in petroleum production, last year extracting more than 165 million barrels of oil from no fewer than 72,000 wells.

How does California become carbon-free if we keep drilling? And if we stop, what happens to all the jobs – not to mention cars – that still rely on gasoline?

“Turning away from drilling and fracking could certainly help us transition to cleaner energy sources that could be developed locally, with tremendous economic and job benefits… but it is all lost if the transition is hasty,” said state Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who called for expanded job training and community impact programs. “We have to do the homework… and make sure the alternative we present is actually better for Californians.”

Several Influencers warned of the dangers of making this shift too quickly, emphasizing the potential job loss and other negative economic impacts.

“I see literally zero benefit to banning oil drilling and fracking in California, unless we are okay with driving thousands of people into unemployment and increasing our reliance on foreign oil,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen said. “We should continue to promote the growth of renewable energy alternatives, but that full transition must take place over time – not forced prematurely by banning jobs that cause both people and the strength of our economy and national security to suffer.”

Some of the state’s foremost renewable energy experts outlined steps to ease the transition from fossil fuels without creating economic disruption.

“California should focus on reducing demand for petroleum and natural gas, deepen our investments in energy efficiency, public transit and non-motorized mobility, and substitute renewable electricity and renewable hydrogen for gasoline, diesel, and natural gas across our economy,” said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “Expanded infrastructure investments and the deployment of renewable fuels and advanced vehicles will stimulate billions of dollars in economic investment and thousands of new jobs.”

Danielle Osborn Mills, director of the American Wind Energy Association of California, focused on the daunting challenges of reducing carbon use in the state’s transportation sector.

“We need new infrastructure to decarbonize – new transmission to access renewable sources of energy and new charging infrastructure to bring that renewable power to California’s drivers,” Mills said. “(We can) establish training and apprenticeship programs in clean energy and create highly-skilled, good-paying jobs… that allow us to modernize our grid and electrify our buildings and vehicles.”

California Solar and Storage Association Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro assessed other disadvantages and benefits of a complete drilling ban.

“To the extent that California would still import fossil fuels for the majority of its energy supplies, the downside would be the export of these environmental impacts to other states and countries,” Del Chiaro said. “However, by taking such a decisive move… California would send a clear signal to investors and consumers alike that the state was serious about getting off of fossil fuels and shifting to clean alternatives.”

Former Los Angeles Times editor Jim Newton also highlighted the symbolic value of a mandate.

“Ending all drilling in California would send a clear signal that this state has turned the corner on climate change, that people here recognize reliance on fossil fuels needs to end soon,” said Newton, now the editor in chief of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Yes, it would be more gesture than substance, since the rest of the world isn’t there yet. But California is committed to leadership on this issue, and leaders are supposed to lead.”

Western Growers Association Executive Vice President Dave Puglia predicted that a drilling ban will not be necessary to achieve the state’s carbon-free goals.

“Looking ahead, renewable energy mandates such as California’s, along with market forces… make it reasonably certain that petroleum will steadily decline as a component of our national energy portfolio,” Puglia said. “The better course is to incentivize continuing investment in technology innovation to further reduce the impacts of oil production, even as petroleum fades over time.”

The most straightforward analysis of the pros and cons of a ban came from Karen Skelton, president of Skelton Strategies in Sacramento.

“The downsides of banning oil drilling and fracking are immediate and politically painful… Take away these jobs, increase poverty,” Skelton said. “The upside of a complete ban over time is simple: protecting mankind’s existence on planet Earth.”

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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