In the news
Gov. Jerry Brown is a smart, practical leader on the issue of climate change. That is why it is so disappointing to see him tripping on the issue of oil drilling in California. He moves us forward with solar power. He glides ahead on clean cars. But the governor stymies the progress by not regulating and phasing out oil drilling in the state.
At the 2015 U.N. Summit on Climate Change in Paris, Gov. Brown painted a vivid scenario of a hellish landscape. He warned of mass wildfires, dying forests, diseases, crop failures and diaspora caused by extreme heat. He urged those at the summit to lower their fossil fuel consumption and to begin transitioning to clean, renewable energy. He spoke with passion about “living lighter on the planet.” He challenged us to confront the modernity that we have become accustomed to.
And you know what? The world listened.
But as the midpoint of 2016, California seems to have gone MIA in the battle on climate change. California is the third-largest oil-producing state in the country. Yet Brown has not taken significant steps to reduce the danger from millions of pounds of methane gas released each year as a by-product of oil drilling.
Methane — a greenhouse gas — is the second-leading contributor to climate change and global warming. It routinely leaks out during oil and gas production. And when that happens, methane easily absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere. In the first 20 years after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The Carnegie Endowment teaches us that dangerous extraction methods — like fracking, which is happening all over California — produce more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil drilling. And, new research from our organization indicates that almost 140 million pounds of toxic, atmosphere-eroding methane leaked into our atmosphere from at least 650 fracked California wells in 2014 alone. To put that in context, Aliso Canyon leaked 200 million pounds of toxic methane.
Wait a minute, you might be saying, are we talking about the same California? The California that is the land of solar power and clean cars and environmentally friendly innovation? Yes, that California.
Make no mistake: California has made huge strides and undertaken significant efforts to fight climate change, many of them thanks to Gov. Brown. The state is home to six of the top 15 cities for solar power in the country. Gov. Brown is working right now to bring one million electric cars to the state by 2020, and we already have over 270,000. The governor supported SB 350 (de León), a bill to ensure the state generates 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2030. That is the equivalent of the 14 smallest states getting 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy. These are all important moves.
But the thing is, when drillers frack for oil in California, we lose these climate benefits. In fact, our studies show that damage from fracking in California in 2014 alone was equivalent to taking all our solar panels off our roofs and all our electric cars off our roads.
The governor who spoke with such urgency and gusto in Paris would not tolerate this “one step forward, two steps backward” approach to fighting climate change. It’s like picking up a piece of trash off the ground and then emptying an entire dumpster in the same spot.
Over the last decade, California has demonstrated that an advanced, complex economy can make important strides toward the goals of renewable energy and clean transportation. Our state has done it. Our cities have done it. Our people have done it. But if we don’t demand tough regulation and the phaseout of oil drilling, we will never, ever stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
Here’s how to begin moving forward. Gov. Brown should of course continue to promote solar energy and clean cars. But we need to work on both sides of the equation to really make an impact. That means a statewide ban on fracking. It also means stricter limits on methane emissions and requiring utilities to install technologies at all their sites to curb both methane and volatile organic compounds being released into the atmosphere. And it means putting our state on a path to phase out our oil and gas use and make the full transition to clean, renewable energy.
By moving the world’s seventh-largest economy, California and Gov. Brown can and need to lead the planet.