Michael Green


Governor Brown’s state of the state address in January included a warning on climate change and a vision for California’s energy future. Quoting Edward O. Wilson, Brown noted that, “The evidence for climate warming…is now overwhelming…we are needlessly turning the gold we have inherited from our forbearers into straw, and for that we will be despised by our descendants.” The Governor’s proposals to cut vehicle fuel use, increase energy efficiency, and most importantly to increase the amount of electricity California derives from renewable sources to 50 percent should be widely supported.

But the Governor has been less forthcoming on his position on fracking. On Saturday, February 7, thousands are expected to rally in Oakland to call on the Governor to halt fracking in California.

In his previous statements, Brown has dismissed concerns about fracking, as if fracking in California is simply a distraction from real climate problems. Asked about protests of his position on fracking in 2013, he downplayed the climate risks,claiming, “It’s like saying one tire on a billion vehicles is the whole problem.”

I’m not aware that anyone has claimed that fracking is the whole climate change problem, but to deny the effect that increased fracking in California would have on the climate crisis is disingenuous at best. As the Governor has noted, the state’s Monterey Shale oil reserves are a key target for the fracking industry. He says fracking there won’t go forward without a state-sponsored scientific study, and he urged anti-fracking advocates to wait for the conclusions of such a study, asking us to “give science a chance.”

But the science around fossil fuel reserves is clear. The world’s leading scientific body on the subject, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned policy makers in 2013 that we must keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate disaster. While Brown acts as if fracking in California is small potatoes in the climate crisis, in fact the fossil fuel reserves in the Monterey Shale are no small matter. Estimates say the area contains 15.4 billion barrels of oil, the biggest shale oil deposit in the United States, with about 2/3 of all U.S. oil reserves. Burning this oil would release 7.7 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere — 17 times California’s 2010 annual emissions, or about the equivalent of a year’s worth of total national emissions.

There is also increasing scientific evidence that fracking is harmful to our health. Fracking operations may involve the use of any number of more than 750 chemicals; many of these chemicals are routinely released into the environment, posing health threats to nearby communities. Our organization co-wrote two recent health studies that have helped inform policy makers. One, a review of the reproductive health data, found that chemicals from fracking could be linked to reduced semen quality, infertility, and an increased risk of miscarriage and still births. The other study, a 5-state air monitoring survey found high levels toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing compounds, in air samples near fracking operations, including several at concentrations that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer. New York State’s recent decision to ban fracking was based on a public health review that relied heavily on these and many other recent health studies.

Given these risks from fracking, and with safer, renewable energy solutions that don’t pose toxic health threats are ready for adoption, it’s reasonable to ask the Governor why he is waiting for more “science” while fracking continues unabated in California. In announcing its most recent report last November, an IPCC working group co-chair noted that we could adopt renewable energy solutions now, if only politicians had the will to implement them, stating, “It is technically feasible to transition to a low carbon economy. But what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

Governor Brown is taking important steps to reduce the demand for fossil fuels. But that’s only half of the equation. California also must urgently tackle the supply side, by committing now to keeping the critical carbon reserves of the state in the ground.

We can’t take any longer to act. Join us on February 7 in calling on Governor Brown to act now to halt fracking and transition to healthier, renewable energy sources now.