Fracking opponents take aim at governor’s climate credentials

By Debra Kahn | 02/09/2015 08:04 AM EST

OAKLAND, Calif. — As Gov. Jerry Brown (D) doubles down on California’s climate change policies, opponents of hydraulic fracturing in the state are getting louder.

Climate and environmental activists in Oakland on Saturday sought to challenge the notion that Brown — who has signed agreements with China and Mexico to collaborate on climate policies and who last month in his inaugural speech proposed cutting petroleum use in half by 2030 — is a climate hawk.

Armed with banners, a bevy of environmental groups convened outside City Hall, where Brown served as mayor from 1999 to 2006. Some had catchy slogans like "Respect existence or expect resistance," while others relied on sheer volume of information. One banner, listing approximately 80 chemicals used in fracking fluids, stretched almost an entire city block.

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Environmentalists offered pointed criticism of Brown. "We believe we have a different definition of what actually makes a climate leader," said Linda Capato Jr., fracking campaign coordinator with the group 350.org. "Saying you’re a climate leader … is like saying you’re trying to save money while inside a Louis Vuitton."

The loquacious governor — known for his willingness to engage with reporters at press conferences — has been relatively silent on fracking.

Concerns about emissions leakage

On Friday, Brown gave his most extensive comments yet on the technique when asked about it at a press conference on the state’s drought — another reason environmentalists oppose fracking’s copious water use. Citing his climate-friendly policies, Brown said that the state isn’t giving up petroleum anytime soon and should at least seek to cut dependence on foreign oil.

"As long as these cars are moving — and as we speak, protesters and nonprotesters are burning up gasoline that is being shipped from Iraq, from Russia, from Venezuela and all sorts of other places and coming in on trains," he said. "So whatever we don’t do here, we’re just going to get from someone else.

"I would say that California has the most imaginative and aggressive and integrated strategy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere," he said, citing his proposals to increase the state’s share of renewable energy to 50 percent, double the efficiency of existing buildings and reduce use of petroleum in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent below today’s levels by 2030 (E&ENews PM, Jan. 5).

"Now, that doesn’t mean we’re doing everything. But I would say that as long as Californians are going to drive 332 billion miles a year and consume 14 billion gallons of gasoline and 4 billion gallons of diesel, we’re going to have to have a plan that is comprehensive, that is stuck to, and implemented consistently over time, and that deals with all the issues and not just a subset."

A community advocate said she wasn’t convinced by Brown’s arguments.

"He’s the governor of California, not Venezuela or the whole world," said Madeline Stano, staff attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. "His responsibility is to take care of our communities and the climate."

Additionally, some of the petroleum may be making its way out of the state, increasing out-of-state emissions that aren’t accounted for under state policies like the cap-and-trade system that covers refiners and fuel suppliers, Stano said.

"We don’t have a lot of information on where it’s going," Stano said. "We have heard earlier reports that it is being exported, but it’s not something we have concrete data on. The overarching theme for all of this is, we don’t know."

State set to release permanent rules this summer

In California, about one-fifth of oil production over the last decade has come from fracked wells, according to a state study released last month. During the same period, companies "fractured about 125 to 175 wells" out of the roughly 300 wells installed every month in the state.

About 95 percent of wells producing oil via hydraulic fracturing were in the San Joaquin Valley, with the bulk in four oil fields in Kern County.

California has imposed interim regulations on fracking and other forms of unconventional drilling and is preparing permanent rules to take effect in July, under a 2013 law, S.B. 4. Environmentalists say the rules are too permissive and procedurally flawed, with environmental impact reports coming out after the rules themselves have been released (EnergyWire, Jan. 15).

The groups want Brown to impose a moratorium on fracking and other stimulation techniques via executive order, Capato said. There have been legislative attempts to ban fracking in previous years, but they would have faced a veto from Brown, she said. "He is the leader, and folks are following him," she said.

Brown was the explicit target at Saturday’s rally, which featured a Brown impersonator in a papier-mache head and another who stood in a dunk tank and allowed people to throw balls at him.

The march drew groups from all around the state, representing labor unions, university groups and environmental groups including 350.org; Food and Water Watch; the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment; and Communities for a Better Environment.

The post-march estimate of attendance at the event, which had been billed as a gathering of 10,000 activists, was 8,000, although a city police officer estimated it at 1,500 to 2,000. After the rally at City Hall, activists marched through downtown Oakland and congregated again at the city’s Lake Merritt for another rally. Local officials, including Oakland Council members Dan Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan, were in attendance, Capato said, although neither addressed the crowd.

Without a statewide moratorium, environmentalists have been engaging in ground battles with companies like Occidental Petroleum Corp., which withdrew last month from a 2011 proposal to drill 200 wells in Carson, south of Los Angeles (EnergyWire, Jan. 28).

"Oil prices dropped; they threw up the white flag," said Dianne Thomas, an activist from Carson. "We beat Oxy."

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