Oil Lobby Overpowers Voters To Kill Statewide Fracking Ban In California

In this Sept. 13, 2013 file photo, environmental demonstrators in Oakland, Calif., protest California Gov. Jerry Brown’s position on natural gas fracking. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BECK DIEFENBACH, FILE
In this Sept. 13, 2013 file photo, environmental demonstrators in Oakland, Calif., protest California Gov. Jerry Brown’s position on natural gas fracking. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BECK DIEFENBACH, FILE

A California bill that would have banned fracking while the state studied its risks was narrowly defeated in the state Senate on Thursday, despite polling that showed a majority of California voters favored the legislation.

SB 1132, authored by Democratic state senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, failed to pass with a vote of 18–16. In all, seven Democrats prevented the bill from moving forward, with four voting against the bill and three more abstaining from voting.

The bill’s defeat was widely seen as a win for the state’s large oil lobby, led by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The group, according to Truth Out, spent $4.6 million in 2013 on lobbying in California, and has so far spent $1.4 million in just the first 3 months of 2014. Altogether, the oil industry — including WSPA, Chevron, and BP — spent more than $56 million lobbying the California Legislature from 2009 through 2013.

The group Californians Against Fracking — which includes, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Oil Change International — estimates $15 million has been spent altogether on lobbying activities to specifically defeat SB 1132.


“It’s disappointing to see our leaders in Sacramento fail to pass a moratorium on fracking, siding with the powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of our families and climate,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Latino online organizing group “Latinos will bear the brunt of the worst effects of fracking in California–from poisoned water to asthma, and are in the areas worst affected by climate change across the nation.”

Fracking is a method of extracting fossil fuels that is coveted for its ability to increase the flow of oil or gas from a well. This is done by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles-deep into the ground into subsurface rock, effectively “fracturing” the rock and allowing more spaces for oil and gas to come through. The process relies heavily on groundwater by injecting a mixture of chemicals and water into rock formations to release oil and gas deposits.

California’s ongoing severe drought emergency had prompted lawmakers to push for the statewide ban until more information could be found about how much water the process used and how safe it was, as a Ceres report found that 96 percent of California fracking wells are located in the areas experiencing drought and high water stress.

But lawmakers who voted against the statewide ban on Wednesday argued that the bill would have led to a “heavy reduction” of jobs, while others argued that the state “needs gas to run on.”

Many had also argued that California was about to experience a shale oil boom, and that a fracking ban would prevent the jobs to come from that boom. Fracking and other unconventional methods of drilling are the primary methods to reach the oil in California’s Monterey Shale, which is too difficult to recover with other methods of drilling.


However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration last week admitted that the amount of oil that could be extracted from the Monterey Shale formation had been overstated by 96 percent, saying only 600 million barrels of oil could be extracted with currently available technology. That amount of oil is only enough to meet U.S. oil consumption for 32 days.

“In other words, there’s not going to be a giant oil boom in California’s near future, and the state, as a result, is not going to add 2.8 million new industry jobs or see its tax revenue increase by $24.6 billion annually, as oil and gas interests had claimed,” Robert Gammon wrote in the East Bay Express on Thursday. “As such, there’s no reason for the governor and lawmakers to continue to back a controversial practice that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth and has been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to earthquakes.”

Even though the statewide ban has failed, though, regional bans on fracking are popping up all over the state — and they’re passing.

In February, the Los Angeles City Council passed a ban on fracking within its jurisdiction, until the council is assured that the practice does not pose a threat to residents’ health and safety. Beverly Hills passed a fracking ban this month, as did Santa Cruz, which last week passed the state’s first-ever permanent fracking ban.