Just over a week ago, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would not only ban effective hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by 2024, but that the state would also work to phase out oil extraction completely by 2045.
“As we rapidly decarbonise our transportation industry and create a healthier future for our children,” he said in a statement just after Earth Day, “I have made it clear that I see no role for fracking in that future and in the same way believe that California must go beyond oil. "
It was – as the governor promised last year that the state would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 – a sweeping statement intended to show the urgency in tackling climate change, while the state he struggles with many of its most dire consequences.
But achieving those goals requires complex regulatory maneuvers.
A ban on fracking – a technique for breaking underground rock formations to extract oil and natural gas – along with a broader shift in fossil fuel production, has been long sought by environmental groups as well as fiercely opposed by trade and labor groups seeking to protect jobs . especially in places like Kern County, where the oil industry is a dominant force.
I wanted to learn more about the state's plans, so I spoke to two of California's top environmental leaders: Jared Blumenfeld, chief of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and Wade Crowfoot, which oversees the California Natural Resources Agency. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
First of all, I would like to ask you to explain a little more about the Governor's announcement. What else does the state need to do to reach that goal by 2045?
Blumenfeld: So we made a bold impression 2045 CO2 neutrality target as a state. When I went out with the governor last October in the midst of that orange sky apocalypse, he said, "You have to do everything you can to speed that up, and look at other things we're not doing." In that context, we looked at transportation – 50 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport sector, which is much larger than the rest of the country. So we set that sales mandate for 2035.
But we also had to look at the offer, because we need to understand and plan that kind of curve for a just transition. To do that, we really wanted a bold goal of ending oil extraction in the state. Fracking is part of the bigger picture of where we want to move towards our carbon neutrality goal.
Crow's Foot: California it is the seventh most oil-producing state in the country. Our oil production has actually been declining since the mid-1980s – we used to be higher in that rankings.
Nonetheless, I think the significance of this announcement is that California is the first place we know of on Earth that really integrates this transition of supply and the complete phasing out of oil extraction into the demand targets.
But how much of a dent will banning fracking – or ending the issuance of new fracking permits, as would be the case here – put in the state's oil and gas production?
Crow's Foot: Before 2014, fracking was not even regulated through a permit. Therefor, a study by the California Council on Science and Technology suggested that about 20 percent of California's oil was produced through fracking. And it was estimated that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 frack jobs in California each year.
In the first three years of implementing the 2014 bill, which probably introduced the country's strictest regulations on fracking, permits dropped to an average of 220 per year. Last year they fell to their lowest point, below 100. Currently, we estimate that fracking produces about 2 percent of California's oil.
Connecting with your broader question: Studies from the University of California found that without any policy intervention – essentially because of market-driven forces – oil production would fall about 40 percent more by 2045. So the question is: what are these policy interventions? That's really where Jared's desk and the California Air Resources Board come into play in drafting regulations.
Blumenfeld: This approach ensures that what we do sticks.
That is the key to California: one thing is our ambition, but there is also implementation.
The Air Resources Board and other government agencies follow and ensure that our ambition is fulfilled by ensuring that what we do is legally sustainable and enforceable.
What about the other side, how would you respond to concerns that these actions would eliminate well-paid jobs that many people and communities, particularly in the Central Valley, rely on? You see something similar to what happened with the the union agreement of major miners is happening in California?
Crow's Foot: Jared spoke of the "just transition." What we need to do is be able to identify and grow high-paying jobs in these technologies that will power California's future economy. That includes renewable fuels, renewable energy – including offshore wind – and oil field remediation. We partner with affected places to develop those opportunities.
Blumenfeld: At that point, the shift from coal to natural gas is going incredibly fast. People thought it would take generations, but it happened much faster.
Here we are trying to point out that we need a thoughtful, deliberate transition period in which we have real investments.
What you saw from the miners union was that they want well-paid jobs. So we must be able to provide that roadmap and that certainty.
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County and graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported statewide, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles, but she always wants to see more. Follow here or further Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.