To meet climate goals, California should produce more oil, not less

It is often forgotten that California has a robust, century-old oil and gas industry that has helped power the state’s rise into a cultural and economic superpower, all while operating under the strictest environmental regulations in the nation. This is why recent anti-industry attacks from activists suggesting California should curb its oil production are far afield from reality.

The Trump administration made news recently when it decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But the Golden State has always been at the forefront of climate change mitigation policies, using a broad approach that recognizes environmental concerns and economic realities.

For every 1,000 barrels of oil that California produces in a day, it must import 2,000 barrels from other countries that not only don’t share our geopolitical interests, but also have laxer environmental safeguards. This is why Gov. Jerry Brown, one of the most vocal environmental advocates of the past 40 years, has said that those who seek to shut down the oil and gas industry with a ban on fracking “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about”.

Perhaps the anti-industry activists mean to say we should curb our oil consumption, and not production. Once again, reality matters: global demand for oil is projected to climb for at least the next several decades.

Of course, if we simply curb oil production then Californians will use oil imported on tankers, which has a carbon footprint of its own. To replace the approximately 200 million barrels of oil that California produces per year would require 588 more tankers to deliver oil to our ports. How is that better for Californians or for the planet?

It is a simple but often overlooked fact that the United States is a world leader — Paris Agreement or not — in greenhouse gas emission reductions thanks to the shale revolution and the fracking that made it possible. It is also a fact, as Brown frequently points out, that there are more than 30 million gasoline-powered cars on the road in California. It is better to produce the oil needed at home with strong environmental safeguards in place, which also provides local jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits.

And the industry is on board. As Western States Petroleum Association CEO Cathy Reheis-Boyd has written: “No region, state or nation in the world produces cleaner fuels and energy than we do in California, and whatever may be discussed outside our state, our industry is committed to maintaining that status.”

There is also a moral component at play: people should accept responsibility for their choices. As Brown himself said in a recent radio interview: “There’s something grossly hypocritical about saying we don’t want any oil production in California. We want it among poor and third-world people, and let them suffer. Whereas, we want to just have our nice, clean environment. That’s not bearing the burden with the benefit.”

The right prescription is for California is to produce more of its own energy. The choice isn’t between producing oil or producing wind or solar power — the latter of which generate electricity and thus don’t replace oil. Traditional and renewable industries can happily coexist, as they do in Texas, which leads the nation in both oil production and wind energy.

If we are truly concerned about global climate change — and we are — and if we are truly concerned about energy security — and we are — then it matters a great deal whether each barrel of oil that Californians eventually consume is produced in Kuwait or Kern County.

The oil consumed in California has to be produced somewhere, so why not in the state with the nation’s strictest environmental safeguards?

NOTE: A version of this article originally appeared in The Hill.

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