For the past few years, Governor Jerry Brown and many state legislators, especially those from the oil-rich Central Valley, have opposed calls to ban fracking in California. They've bought into the industry argument that a moratorium on fracking would mean that California would miss out on the oil and gas boom sweeping the nation, and thus would hamper the state's economic recovery. Oil and natural gas interests also backed up their argument with hefty campaign donations to lawmakers. In fact, Brown accepted $2.49 million in donations from oil and natural gas interests prior to signing legislation last year that requires the state to approve all fracking permit requests.
But a stunning announcement made last week by federal energy officials has completely undercut the oil and natural gas industry's argument for fracking in California. The US Energy Information Administration concluded that the state is going to miss out on the oil and gas boom anyway, even if it does green-light fracking. Why? It turns out the previous estimates of the amount of oil that can be extracted in the state via fracking were wildly optimistic. The feds said that instead of 13.7 billion barrels of oil, California's Monterey Shale deposit actually only has about 600 million barrels of oil that can be removed from the ground using hydraulic fracturing or acidization methods. That's a 96 percent reduction.
It's not that the oil suddenly disappeared — it's still there, but it can't be removed from the ground. Unlike the relatively stable shale oil fields of North Dakota and Texas, the Monterey Shale has been folded and shattered by seismic activity, making the oil it contains inaccessible — at least by current technology.
In other words, there's not going to be a giant oil boom in California's near future, and the state, as a result, is not going to add 2.8 million new industry jobs or see its tax revenue increase by $24.6 billion annually, as oil and gas interests had claimed. In fact, there's likely not going to be a boom at all. And so, if the state were to enact a ban on fracking now, it probably would have little to no impact on California's economy. As such, there's no reason for the governor and lawmakers to continue to back a controversial practice that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth and has been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to earthquakes.
Perhaps that's why the state Senate's Appropriations Committee approved SB 1132 late last week — after the feds released their revised estimate on the Monterey Shale. The bill would implement a ban on fracking while state officials complete a comprehensive environmental review of the fossil-fuel extraction method. The legislation is now headed for a full vote by the state Senate. And there's no good reason for the legislature or the governor to now oppose it.
Indeed, they should have enacted a fracking ban in 2013. It was already clear last year that the extreme environmental hazards caused by fracking simply aren't worth the risks — even considering the potential boost to the state's economy, which still seemed possible last year. Voters have realized this fact. Last week (before the feds released their revised estimate), a poll showed that a supermajority of state residents — 68 percent — said they support a fracking moratorium. Even a majority of Republican voters — 51 percent — expressed support for a temporary ban.
In short, it's long past time for state lawmakers and the governor to catch up to the general public. California doesn't need to be fracked.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) said last week that Governor Brown's administration is underestimating the costs of the Medi-Cal expansion under Obamacare by about $300 million, the Los Angeles Times reported. The LAO had previously concluded that the governor had seriously underestimated tax revenues as well — by about $2.5 billion. The LAO came to a similar conclusion last year — and was proven right, while the governor's projections turned out to be wrong. The LAO's forecasts mean that the state has about $2.8 billion more funds available in its budget next year than the governor had projected. ... Yet even with the extra funds available, the state Senate shelved a plan last week that sought to provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants in California, when lawmakers balked at the estimated $400 million price tag of implementing SB 1005. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to enroll in Obamacare, and represent the last large section of the population that remains uninsured. As a result, undocumented immigrants typically end up in emergency rooms when they're injured or seriously ill. ... Fueled by the real estate boom, the City of Oakland's tax revenues are about $30 million higher than expected, the Oakland Tribune reported. Mayor Jean Quan is proposing to use the extra funds to pay for two more police academies in the next year in an effort to boost the size of the city's police force to more than seven hundred officers. Quan also is proposing to pay for sewer projects, a jobs resource center, and technology improvements — and she wants to increase the city's rainy-day reserve fund. ... Lift Up Oakland, a union-backed initiative, turned in a petition with more than 33,000 signatures to raise the minimum wage in the city to $12.25 an hour next year via a November ballot measure. ... And the state Senate unanimously passed an ethics reform bill that bans lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists and reduces the cap on any gift received from $440 to $200.