Democrats revolt against a ban on oil and gas ‘fracking.’
Few issues divide Democrats more than energy policy, as we’ve learned as unions and environmentalists fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. More evidence now comes from California, where greens have lost an attempt to ban oil and gas hydraulic fracturing.
Democratic leaders brought their fracking moratorium bill to the Assembly floor last week, and their rank and file revolted. The bill lost 37-24, with 12 Democrats joining 25 Republicans to defeat it. Another 18 Democrats abstained, and it’s a good bet they were “no” votes who didn’t want to publicly cross their leadership. This was a rare rout of the Sierra Club and other greens that denounce “fracking” for polluting water and inducing earthquakes, among other horrors. They blamed the oil and gas lobby, but that hides the real story.
Zuma Press: An anti-fracking protester demonstrates outside the Governor’s office on Thursday.
The votes for the fracking ban came mainly from the wealthy, mostly white Democratic coastal districts—San Francisco, Santa Monica and Malibu. Opponents were mostly from central California, areas that are poor and minority, with rates of unemployment of 12% or more. Six of the seven black assembly Democrats voted against the ban or abstained. Though the Assembly speaker is Hispanic, most of the rank-and-file Latino Democrats refused to vote for the ban.
These Democrats understand that fracking is already happening in California, especially in energy-rich Bakersfield. According to the California Independent Petroleum Association, about one-third of the active wells now use this innovative drilling process that uses chemicals, sand and water to crack shale rock. A moratorium would throw thousands of Californians out of work, and not those in Beverly Hills. Oil and gas jobs typically pay salaries that range from $50,000 to $100,000 a year and many of them are unionized.
California sits atop the vast Monterey Shale that contains an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. That’s twice as much as North Dakota has in the Bakken Shale where fracking is common. The oil and gas industry still hasn’t found a way to extract the oil from Monterey economically. But it is getting closer, and a fracking ban would send the industry elsewhere.
A study by University of Southern California scientists funded by the oil industry estimates fracking would deliver 500,000 jobs over the next several years and $24.6 billion in state and local tax revenue in 2020 alone. If those numbers are even close to accurate, drilling could be a financial salvation for a state that has $167.9 billion in long-term liabilities, not counting pensions and retiree health, according to the state’s auditor. A strong case can be made that California can’t afford not to frack.