If there is anyplace the gang green can expect to get its way, it would surely be California. The state has the highest renewable energy standards in the country, the legislature is currently dominated by a liberal supermajority, and Governor Jerry Brown's environmental record runs deep.
When the Energy Information Agency reported that California's Monterey Shale potentially contains more than 15 billion barrels of oil -- a supply three times greater than North Dakota's Bakken and the Texas Eagle Ford formations, environmental groups ratcheted up their efforts to keep the resource in the ground. The weapon of choice? Demonize the technology that allows the oil and gas to be released from the sedimentary rock: hydraulic fracturing -- commonly called "fracking."
California's legislature had nearly a dozen different bills designed to impede, restrict, or ban fracking. When the bills made it out of committee, Patrick Sullivan, of the anti-fracking group Center for Biological Diversity claimed: "There's huge momentum in the legislature to halt this dangerous practice."
Imagine their shock when the rank and file Democrats revolted and defeated AB 1323, 37-24 -- with 12 Democrats voting with 25 Republicans. Another 18 abstained. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), "It's a good bet the(re) were 'no' votes who didn't want to publicly cross their leadership." The WSJ called the vote: "a rare rout for The Sierra Club and other greens."
It seems that California's "politicians are beginning to wonder if cultivating greenie obsessions has been worth stopping economic development," writes Mark Whittington for Yahoo.com. "The environmental lobby has seen the limit of its power."
This is especially interesting in light of the columns I've been writing lately. Last week, in my column The Sierra Club Exposed, I referenced a Sierra Club director who claims that Latino voters care more about conservation than energy drilling. Yet, who are the Democrats who split with their party to block the fracking bans that would "throw thousands of Californians out of work?" Those representing poor and minority areas with unemployment rates of 12 percent or more. Six of the seven black and most of the Latino assembly Democrats refused to vote for the ban, while wealthy, mostly white Democratic coastal districts voted for it. Whittington says the vote is "dividing the state's all powerful Democratic party, pitting rich against poor, white against minorities and coastal California against central California."
Fracking has been used in California for 60 years, and is used in about a third of California's active wells. Since the start of 2011, 974 California wells have been fracked. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, asserts: "California has never recorded a single documented instance of fracking wastewater leaking out and contaminating the surrounding groundwater supply." Meanwhile, environmentalists, such as Adam Snow of Food and Water Watch claim "there's no safe way to frack."
California can't afford not to frack.
A recent study, "Powering California: The Monterey Shale & California's Economic Future," found that Development of oil from the Monterey Shale using hydraulic fracturing and other recovery technologies could result in:
•The creation of 512,000 to 2.8 million new jobs,
With a potential of more than 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey shale, saying no to fracking means saying no to California's economic salvation.
No wonder Governor Brown has yet to take a position on fracking. In fact, he sounds like he is willing to abandon his solid green credentials--angering environmentalists who are staging protests outside his office. The Center for Biological Diversity's Rose Braz claims: "Fracking pollution threatens our air and water and Gov. Brown's legacy as an environmental leader."
The green state is going brown.
In March, Brown said "The fossil fuel deposits in California are incredible, the potential is extraordinary. But between now and development lies a lot of questions that need to be answered." Last month, he seemed to move even closer to supporting fracking: "This is not about just saying, ideologically, yea or nay. It's about looking at what could be a fabulous opportunity. . . . And if you remember about oil drilling, oil drilling in Long Beach, which was really pioneered I think when my father was governor, poured I don't know how many billions into higher education."
Brown doesn't take the doom-and-gloomers very seriously and most of the state sees through the fear mongering, too. A recent poll found that 60% of Californians were in favor of properly regulated hydraulic fracturing. Only 30% said they prefer a ban. Dan Schnur, director of USC's Unruh Institute of Politics, states: "It's clear that a majority of voters is comfortable with the procedure, as long as they believe appropriate regulation is in place."
Investors are buying up property in the regions surrounding the Monterey Shale, knowing that development will mean economic recovery and a need for new housing and services. The gang green is losing to greenbacks.
Once again, energy could make California great.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).