A group of top U.S. climate scientists have sent a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to issue a moratorium on fracking in his state.
Twenty scientists — including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and vocal advocate of taking action on climate change, and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University — signed the letter. The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group that organized the letter, delivered it to Gov. Brown’s office Wednesday morning.
The letter outlines the emissions impact, threat of dangerous pollution and the vast water requirements of extracting gas and oil from California’s shale reserves. It notes that, according to a 2012 California Air Resources Board report, more than 30 percent of California’s oil is “as carbon intensive to develop and refine as the Alberta tar sands in Canada.” That report did not take into account the Monterrey Shale reserves in California, which were opened up to fracking earlier this year and which the letter’s authors write could be “even more carbon intensive to develop” than conventional oil.
Because of these threats, the letter’s authors “strongly recommend that California immediately place a moratorium on shale tight oil and gas development” until research can prove that development of these fossil fuels can be done without threatening public health and in a manner that allows California to reach its long-term emissions targets.
“If what we’re trying to do is stop using the sky as a waste dump for our carbon pollution, and if we’re trying to transform our energy system, the way to do that is not by expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University who signed the letter.
California’s oil and gas industry, which lobbied hard against previous bills in California that proposed moratoriums and other stricter regulations on fracking and which treated state lawmakers to a $13,000 dinner the week before the SB4 vote, said the letter did not “present an accurate or realistic picture” of California’s energy needs.
The Governor’s office responded to the letter with this statement:
“As the scientists note, California has among the strongest set of policies to combat climate change in the nation. These efforts are driven by sound science and so too will the new hydraulic fracturing regulations. … We look forward to continuing to work with the scientific community.”
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s first fracking bill, SB4, into law, which will require oil and gas companies to get a permit for fracking, make the fracking chemicals they use public, notify neighbors before drilling and monitor ground water and air quality. The law also requires state officials to complete a study by 2015 that evaluates the risks of fracking. It stops short, however, of imposing a moratorium on fracking until the study is completed, something environmentalists called for before the bill was passed.
Moratoriums on fracking have been enacted in states and localities before — New York has been under a fracking moratorium for six years, and this month, three Colorado cities voted to impose permanent bans or moratoriums on fracking. According to FracTracker, more than 100 other municipalities have enacted similar legislation, halting fracking until more research is done or banning it completely.