Updated: Nov 11
Gov. Newsom recently issued an executive order outlining a ban on the sale of fossil fuels by 2035, but is this enough? Newsom’s administration itself has issued nearly 1,700 oil and gas permits this year alone
Earlier this month, millions of Americans tuned in to the vice presidential debate to watch Mike Pence, Kamala Harris and a fly argue for the soul of America. After a fairly unsatisfying exchange on climate change, both Harris and Pence vehemently opposed a ban on fracking.
Fracking is often portrayed as a complicated issue, so let’s stick to the facts. Multiple studies have found that fracking can cause earthquakes. For example, Oklahoma has seen a significant increase in earthquakes, both in frequency and magnitude. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has conclusively linked this to fracking and other oil extraction activities. Additionally, fracking fluid often contaminates groundwater. For instance, Chromium Hexavalent, a carcinogen found in fracking fluid, was found at roughly 21 times the national average in my hometown of Pleasanton from 2012-2017. Although not definitively due to drilling activity, water pollution continues to be a substantial issue across the United States.
Biden’s refusal to stand up to fossil fuel companies on fracking, as the current face of the Democratic Party, sends the wrong message to both public officials and citizens across the country. Fracking is bad for public health and the environment and oil drilling is even worse. California is often advertised as an environmental leader, setting the standard for the rest of the country. California, however, is also the seventh largest producer of oil in the nation.
Recently, oil has been on the forefront of many Californians’ minds as climate change has contributed to the intense fire seasons over the past few years. The governor even signed an executive order in September proclaiming a ban on the sale of gas vehicles by 2035, but Newsom’s record with Big Oil has been spotty at best and this act of good faith means nothing without action.
“Gov. Newsom is hurting our climate and health by supporting dirty oil extraction,” said Kassie Siegel, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, via email”He has rubber-stamped permits to drill more than 1,700 new oil and gas wells this year alone. He is allowing Big Oil to spew dangerous pollution near where people live, work, and play, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color. That’s why more than 750 organizations are demanding that Newsom demonstrate real leadership by stopping the approval of new wells, ending neighborhood drilling, and committing to phase out dirty oil drilling through a just transition to clean energy.”
Newsom’s executive order is not enough. Strict enforcement is also necessary to ensure compliance by corporations like Chevron. For instance, Chevron’s GS-5, an inland oil spill or “surface expression,” near Bakersfield has flowed since 2003, spilling between 50-84 million gallons of oil. As a point of reference, that’s more than the Exxon Valdez Spill which is widely considered one of the worst crude oil spills in history.
Last year, California passed a law which created a zero tolerance policy towards surface expressions, allowing the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) to fine companies up to $25,000 per day for spills. Despite the threat of hefty fines, a small loophole exists that allows “low energy seeps” or slow spills that are mostly contained, whose qualifications are left up to the supervisor of the site. Since the regulations were implemented in April 2019, a multitude of spills have occurred but only one fine has been issued––which was never paid. The enforcement of these regulations have been spotty at best, with companies still profiting millions of dollars from inland spills and challenging any fines in court. Despite its environmental repercussions, the oil industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, especially in oil rich Kern County, the site of many of these inland spills. In fact, according to Aera Energy, in 2017 alone, oil and gas companies pumped $152 billion dollars into California’s economy and provided roughly 350,000 jobs.
The question I pose to you is, at what cost? When the pandemic hit, many of those employees were laid off due to plummeting gas prices. California has been drilling oil since the Gold Rush and eventually it’s going to run dry. The momentum for shifting towards a greener economy has never been so important. It is time to reject fossil fuels using both your ballot and wallets. If you’d like to learn more about this issue, I’d recommend ProPublica and Desert Sun’s investigative pieces from last month which really go in depth on inland oil spills and the Newsom Administration. An organization you can get involved with is Last Chance Alliance, who have a campaign specifically focused on California’s Oil Crisis.
Written by — Joe Sweeney
This article originally appeared in The Aggie Newspaper.