PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday directed his secretary of natural resources to fire Ken Harris, the state’s top oil regulator, after learning from The Desert Sun/USA TODAY and watchdog groups that fracking permits have doubled without his knowledge since he took office and that seven supervisors charged with regulating the industry own shares in major oil companies.
Ann O’Leary, chief of staff to Newsom, sent a letter to Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for Natural Resources, asking him to immediately make several changes in the Department of Conservation, including firing Harris.
Harris is the head of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, also known as DOGGR. He could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
O’Leary also told Crowfoot to “continue at full pace the investigation you have already started related to the allegations that employees at DOGGR have holdings in energy companies, which could constitute actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and take the maximum disciplinary action appropriate under law.”
In the meantime, she directed him to ensure that all employees and contractors who own oil or gas stocks recuse themselves from all permitting decisions pending individual reviews based on new conflict rules that are being formulated.
On Wednesday, The Desert Sun reported the pace at which fracking permits are issued has doubled since Newsom took office in January, and thousands of permits for new and re-used oil and gas wells also have been approved, angering environmental and public health groups who hoped for a phase-out of the state’s billion-dollar industry following the retirement of Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Desert Sun also reported on the findings of two watchdog groups, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance, who uncovered records showing that top state regulators and engineers held investments in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Valero and other petrochemical giants.
Almost half of the 2,300 well permits issued in 2019 have benefited oil companies invested in by agency officials, the consumer groups said.
Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance uncovered the regulators’ personal investments and permit data through public records requests, and the two groups shared the documents with The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network.
“This is a good start,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “This shows the governor wants to change the culture at the agency to make sure it’s free of conflicts and safety comes before the oil companies’ interests. The next move has to be to hold accountable Mr. Harris’ supervisors, who were well aware that this was an agency that was permitting wells with the oil companies’ interests first in its mind and the public last.”
Guest Bloggers Deborah Gordon and Frances Reuland: Is California Extraordinary? Its Oil Resources Certainly Are
Facts About California’s Oil and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Despite ongoing federal rollbacks to environmental regulations, California has the right to set its own clean air standards because it is truly extraordinary. Truth be told, the compelling circumstances that first set in motion California’s vehicle emissions standards remain entirely valid. And there are four recent conditions, related to California’s oil supply, production, and refining, that bolster California’s case against the Administration’s threat to strip California of its clean car clout.
In 1967, then governor Ronald Reagan adopted statewide vehicle emissions regulations to address California’s severe air pollution. Shortly thereafter, when the federal Clean Air Act was adopted, California was granted a waiver to set its own tougher vehicle emissions standards. Over the decades, California has repeatedly ratcheted up these regulations to also include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to maintain its waiver, California’s emissions standards must be deemed necessary to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions.” Historically, these referred to the state’s unique meteorology, geography, population, and air pollution levels.
All of these still hold true: the sun shines strong, the weather is warm, mountains wall in emissions from cars and other sources, one in eight American drivers reside here, and the air is still very dirty.
But there are four more extraordinary circumstances, all relating to California’s oil resources, that need to be factored into the case for preserving and strengthening California’s clean car program.
These circumstances are bolstered by the fact that California’s gasoline and diesel markets are geographically isolated from other locations in the United States that produce refined products. As such, California is essentially self-sufficient, refining its own transport fuels. Little, if any, gasoline and diesel are obtained from outside the state to balance out supply with demand.
All of the oil California produces ends up in its own refineries, and this is not an environmentally-friendly affair, especially in a state that has taken the lead on clean air and climate change. According to the Oil Climate Index (OCI)—an open source tool (developed by Gordon and her partners at Stanford and the University of Calgary) that compares the climate impacts of global oils—extracting and refining oil in California is dirtier than anywhere else in the United States. Weakening California’s vehicle emissions standards will force Californians to consume more of the state’s dirty oil longer into the future. This will increase pollution levels and elevate risks to public welfare in the state with the nation’s worst air pollution—69 percent of counties had unhealthy air on 33 days last year.
California’s oil resources are extraordinarily strained
As Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, and overall U.S. oil production rises, California production is in decline. Since 1985, California’s crude oil production has dropped steadily: the state now produces under 500,000 barrels per day, less than half of its output 30 years ago. California’s aging oil fields, unstable seismic geology, and tight environmental rules all work to limit oil production. Successfully running its oil refineries at their current capacity of 2 million barrels a day to meet Californians’ gasoline and diesel demands requires the state to feed the entirety of its domestic oil into its refineries and then import 70 percent more oil. If realized, Trump’s plan to weaken the state’s clean car standards would increase gasoline and diesel demand, exacerbating the state’s already-strained oil resources and further pressuring security of its energy supplies.
California’s oil resources are extraordinarily dirty
California’s oils have some of the largest carbon footprints worldwide. Producing, refining, and consuming a barrel of California oil emits more GHGs than other global barrels. For example, the state’s largest oilfield, Midway Sunset, is estimated to be more carbon intensive than Canada’s oil sands. California’s South Belridge and Wilmington fields are also among the highest-emitting in the nation. Trump’s plan would increase California’s GHG footprint, countering the state’s climate goals.
California’s oils are extraordinarily energy intensive
Aging oils in California require significant amounts of energy to extract and refine, much more than newer resources in North Dakota, the Gulf of Mexico, and elsewhere. Fossil fuels, like natural gas and diesel, provide these extra energy inputs. A barrel of California’s Midway Sunset oil, for example, uses one-third of its total energy just to extract and refine it into petroleum products like gasoline and jet fuel. Likewise, California’s complex refineries consume nearly five times more energy to turn the state’s oil into marketable products than simpler refineries. Much more manpower and money are spent bringing California oil to market than elsewhere in the country.
California’s oils are extraordinarily undocumented
Unlike other states and countries, California does not document its oil quality. The problem is that California’s oil resources are more dangerous to handle than most global oils. In 2011, for example, a California oil field worker was buried alive when the ground gave way as steam was being cycled through the oil field. California’s complex oil was documented long ago by the federal government, but recommendations for oil data transparency have gone unheeded for over a century. These large information gaps introduce new environmental risks for California.
California’s 30 million motor vehicles that far outnumber any other state are a major source of air pollution. Clean car rollbacks are a threat to the state’s environmental progress—and energy security. The state needs to fight hard to preserve its pioneering vehicle emissions standards on behalf of itself and several U.S. states and international provinces that have already adopted them. Beyond preserving the standards in place, state policymakers should also consider tightening their emissions standards if they are going to make real headway addressing climate change. In this historic fight, California can draw on its extraordinary status—namely its exceedingly dirty, depleting oils that are unusually energy intensive and fundamentally unknown.
Deborah Gordon is the director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University. Frances Reuland is Carnegie’s James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in the Energy and Climate Program.
Plan to power California with all renewable energy clears major hurdle
By Taryn Luna, August 28, 2018 05:29 PM
The California Legislature is poised to send a bill to the governor that would require all retail electricity to be generated from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2045.
Despite objections from utilities and oil companies, the Assembly voted 43-32 to eliminate fossil fuels in the state’s energy sector on Tuesday. Senate Bill 100, introduced by Sen. Kevin de León, must return to the Senate, and is all but guaranteed to reach the Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk before the legislative session ends this week.
“When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down, ” de León said. “We have taken another great stride toward a 100% clean energy future.”
Climate activists and environmental groups have hailed the plan as a critical step forward in the battle against climate change. The bill’s passage in California will serve as a symbolic strike against the Trump administration, which has steadily attempted to erode environmental protections, roll back fuel economy standards and weaken existing rules meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fire plants.
Opponents have long argued that California’s efforts to combat climate change are futile and fail to make a substantial difference as the planet continues to warm. Some Assembly members warned the bill would hurt workers in the fossil fuel industry and raise prices for utility customers.
“We pass all these goals for renewables, but at the same time our families back home will pay the cost with an increase in the electric bills every year as we try to achieve this,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, is, R-Visalia.
The bill is opposed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas And Electric Company, Western States Petroleum Association, Agricultural Council of California and more than two dozen others.
The proposal toughens regulations in a state seen as a global leader on climate change.
State lawmakers set a goal two years ago of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders last year extended the state’s cap-and-trade program, a market-based system that allows polluters to buy permits for the greenhouse gases they emit, through 2030. Lawmakers described the cap-and-trade program as the state’s best tool to encourage companies to reduce their carbon footprint and allow the state to reach its greenhouse gas goals.
De León initially introduced SB 100 in 2017 and the Assembly held the bill, effectively killing it for the year. In addition to setting the no-carbon standard, the bill would revise interim goals along the way. The bill bumps up an existing target by four years to hit 50 percent renewable energy in 2027 and sets the state on track to meet the 60 percent threshold by the end of 2030.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Vice President Al Gore wrote separate letters of support for SB 100. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pledges to issue a directive on his first day of office, if elected, to put California on target to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. He has not publicly endorsed SB 100.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who is hosting a global climate summit in San Francisco next month, has also remained silent on the proposal.
Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California
By Elizabeth Patterson and Melvin Willis, Aug. 24, 2018 3:31 p.m.
As San Francisco prepares to host Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic Global Climate Action Summit in September, we, the San Francisco Bay Area mayors of cities impacted by the toxic consequences of fossil fuel production, are standing with elected representatives from frontline communities and throughout California in calling on the governor to phase out fossil fuel production.
Benicia and Richmond both face the toxic consequences of California’s complicity in one of the most toxic, polluting, dangerous industries on Earth and the primary driver of climate change: the oil and gas industry.
Benicia is home to the Valero oil refinery, and our residents are regularly exposed to emissions during standard operations. In May 2017, a power outage sent flames, heavy black smoke and toxic gases spewing into the air for two straight weeks. Among the pollutants were nearly 80,000 pounds of toxic sulfur dioxide — five years’ worth of “normal” emissions — and carbonyl sulfide, a highly toxic and extremely flammable gas. Accidents are only the most visible of the toxic pollution that impacts our public health, day after day. Our asthma rates are three times the state average.
The Texas-based petroleum giant’s Benicia refinery employs 480 people and supplies nearly a quarter of our city’s tax revenue, but at what cost?
When Valero proposed a crude-by-rail project to bring 70,000 barrels of tar sands and Bakken crude oil per day by rail through the Sierra, Sacramento and Davis to Benicia, our residents resisted, and our small, historic town stood up to our biggest employer and taxpayer. After three years of environmental review, national attention and a failed effort by Valero to get the federal government involved, the City Council voted unanimously against it.
Farther south on San Francisco Bay is Richmond, one of the poorest communities in the Bay Area. Our city of largely Hispanic, African American and Asian residents fought against toxic industrial pollution from Chevron’s Richmond refinery that processes 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Chevron is our largest employer and taxpayer. Nonetheless, our community has risen up, defeating Chevron-backed candidates in 2014 that outspent us 5 to 1 in our local election, and elected true champions for our community. Richmond forced major environmental conditions on Chevron as it expands the refinery and strengthened our Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the refinery’s toxic explosion and fire in 2012 that sent 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment.
Toxic pollution isn’t the only threat we face. With 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay, Richmond is at extreme risk from sea level rise that will soon cost our community far more than we can afford. So, Richmond, home to an oil giant, became the ninth city in less than a year to bring major fossil fuel companies to court over climate change. We filed a lawsuit against 29 oil, gas and coal companies — including Chevron, along with BP and Exxon — to hold them accountable for their role in climate change and its impacts on the community.
The fossil fuel industry’s business plan is destroying not only our health and communities, but also the survival of our species.
Yet, under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state of California has not only tolerated the fossil fuel industry, but expanded it — granting permits for drilling 20,000 new oil wells.
The Bay Area has had enough of this climate hypocrisy. It is wrong to make communities sick. As one of the top oil-producing states, it is time to bring the fossil fuel era to an end.
While our small towns have the courage to stand up to a billion-dollar fossil fuel industry to protect our public health and climate, why hasn’t Brown?
On the toxic front lines of climate change, we stand with 150 local elected officials from a majority of counties in California that are taking bold steps to stop fossil fuels. We all are urging Brown to make a plan to phase out oil and gas production in California, to clean up our cities, towns and agricultural lands, and protect our people.
If our cities can say “no” to expanding fossil fuels, Gov. Brown, you can, too — and we’ll have your back.
Elizabeth Patterson is mayor of Benicia. Melvin Willis is vice mayor of Richmond.