What the Frack?!

California elected leaders are determined to phase out in-state fossil fuel production in order to meet its ambitious climate goals. California’s 2019-2020 enacted budget reaffirms the state’s commitment to a “carbon-neutral economy” and transition away from fossil fuels. At a bill signing in October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law six pieces of legislation squarely aimed at additional regulations on in-state oil and gas production, stating “California is a leader in the fight to transition away from fossil fuels. These bills put intentions into action.” One month later, the Governor double-downed by announcing an immediate moratorium on all new permits for steam-injected oil drilling, that all pending applications to conduct hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) to be independently reviewed, and rules would be updated to potentially establish minimum setback requirements for new and existing oil and gas wells. At the time of the announcement, the Governor stated that the moratorium was a necessary step “to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources.”

But are California policies discouraging in-state oil and gas production leading California to be less dependent on fossil fuel, or just less dependent on domestically produced fossil fuel? The answer lies in the data. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC) report, California is relying more on foreign oil than at any time since the CEC started tracking this in 1982. In 2018, California imported 370 million barrels, or 57% of the state’s crude oil supply, from foreign nations like Saudi Arabia (37%), Colombia (13%), and Iraq (8%). Compare this rate to 1992, when California imported just 33 million barrels, or just 5% of its supply, from foreign nations. And in terms of total crude oil demand, California is importing 2 million more barrels of crude oil than the total amount of crude demanded in 2007 – a year after AB 32 was adopted.

Banning in-state oil and gas production only to shift suppliers to foreign oil regimes with abysmal environmental and human-rights records fails to address climate change, as all it really does is trade greenhouse gas emissions here in California for greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Despite California’s self-proclaimed climate leadership, the state has not figured out how to meet its energy demands with renewable energy sources. This is highlighted by a recent California Public Utilities Commission decision directing load serving entities to procure 3.3 Gigawatts of capacity beyond baseline resources in order to meet a potential resource adequacy shortage beginning in 2021. California’s resource adequacy issues are directly related to the rise of renewable energy, the looming closure of many natural gas-fired power plants, and the increasing share of customers being served by community choice aggregators. As the saying goes, the “data don’t lie.” And the data clearly shows California relies heavily on fossil fuels to meet its current energy demands.

Adam Regele, Policy Advocate