A little more than a week ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that not only would California effectively ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by 2024, but the state also would work to phase out oil extraction entirely by 2045.
“As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children,” he said in a statement just after Earth Day, “I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”
It was — like the governor’s promise last year that the state would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 — a sweeping pronouncement meant to show urgency in addressing climate change while the state he leads struggles with many of its most dire effects.
But meeting those goals requires complex regulatory maneuvering.
A ban on fracking — a technique for fracturing underground rock formations to extract oil and natural gas — along with a broader shift away from fossil fuel production, has been both long sought by environmental groups and fiercely opposed by trade and labor groups seeking to protect jobs, particularly in places like Kern County, where the oil industry is a dominant force.
I wanted to know more about the state’s plans, so I spoke with two of California’s top environmental leaders: Jared Blumenfeld, who heads California’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Wade Crowfoot, who oversees the California Natural Resources Agency. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
First, I want to ask you to explain a bit more about the governor’s announcement. What more will the state need to do to meet that 2045 goal?
Blumenfeld: So we set a bold 2045 carbon neutrality goal as a state. Then, last October, when I went out with the governor in the middle of that orange sky apocalypse, he was like, “You need to do everything you can to accelerate that, 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 transportation sector, which is much larger than the rest of the country. So we set that 2035 sales mandate.
But we also needed to look at supply, because we need to understand that kind of curve and plan for a just transition. In order to do that, we really wanted a bold goal to end oil extraction in the state. Fracking is part of the bigger picture about where we want to go toward our carbon neutrality goal.
Crowfoot: California is the seventh-most oil-producing state in the country. Our oil production has actually been in decline since the mid-1980s — we used to be higher in that ranking.
Nonetheless, I think the significance of this announcement is that California is the first place that we know of on Earth that’s really integrating this transition of supply and the full phaseout of oil extraction into its demand goals.
But how much of a dent will banning fracking — or ending the issuance of new fracking permits, as would be the case here — make in the state’s oil and gas production?
Crowfoot: Before 2014, fracking was not even regulated through permit. Prior to that, a study by the California Council on Science and Technology suggested that about 20 percent of California’s oil was being produced through fracking. And there was an estimate that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 frack jobs every year in California.
In the first three years of the implementation of the 2014 bill that put in place probably the country’s strongest regulations on fracking, the permits dipped to about 220 on average per year. Last year, they dipped to their lowest point, under 100. Currently, we estimate fracking produces approximately 2 percent of the oil in California.
Connecting to your broader question: Studies from the University of California identified that without any policy intervention — because of market-driven forces, essentially — oil production would reduce approximately 40 percent more by 2045. So the question is, what are those policy interventions? That’s really where Jared’s agency and the California Air Resources Board come into play in crafting regulations.
Blumenfeld: This approach is part of making sure that what we do sticks.
That’s key about California: One thing is our ambition, but there’s also the implementation.
The Air Resources Board and other state agencies, we really track and make sure that there’s reality to our ambition, by making sure what we do is legally durable and enforceable.
What about on the flip side: How would you respond to concerns that these actions would eliminate good-paying jobs that many people and communities, particularly in the Central Valley, rely on? Do you see something similar to what happened with the big coal miners’ union deal happening in California?
Crowfoot: Jared talked about the “just transition.” What we need to do is be able to identify and grow good-paying jobs in these technologies that will power California’s future economy. That includes renewable fuels, renewable energy — including offshore wind — and the remediation of oil fields. We’re working in partnership with impacted places to develop those opportunities.
Blumenfeld: On that point, the shift away from coal to natural gas is incredibly rapid. People thought it would take generations, but it happened much quicker.
Here, we’re trying to signal that we need a thoughtful, deliberative transition period where we have real investments.
What you saw from the coal miners’ union was that they want good-paying jobs. So we need to be able to provide that road map and that certainty.
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.