Tag Archives: unfrack California

California’s fracked up oil: nearly as bad for the climate as Keystone XL?

by RL Miller

IMAG0681The Keystone XL pipeline has birthed a movement, massive rallies, and even the Keystone Principle – “Specifically and categorically, we must cease making large, long-term capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure that “locks in” dangerous emission levels for many decades.” Keystone is a carbon bomb.

Very nearly as explosive, yet virtually ignored: California’s oil awaiting fracking. The state’s oil reserves – 400 billion barrels – were long considered dwindling, until fracking the oil has promised to liberate, or something, 15 billion barrels.

The math puts the carbon impacts of California’s oil on par with Keystone. The respected Skeptical Science blog calculates Keystone’s impact over 40 years as adding 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. I did the math and found that California’s easily available oil awaiting fracking is 6.45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

7 billion tons of carbon pollution is more than 6.45 billion tons, but not much more.

The chemistry agrees: California’s oil is as dirty as the Canadian tar sands. State data shows that several California oil fields produce just as much carbon dioxide per barrel of oil as the tar sands do. A handful of fields yield even more.

The ugly physics of handling this dirty oil are reminiscent of the Keystone pipeline’s politics of exporting pollution. California’s landmark global warming law, AB32, institutes a low carbon fuel standard. High-carbon oil won’t be refined here. It will be shipped to  less climate-conscious states or less finicky countries. And transporting dirty oil out of state will create yet more pollution.

The Keystone Principle demands that California’s oil stay underground; the terrifying new math of global warming demands that California’s oil stay underground. Meanwhile, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity paints it as “black gold”: video here.

One would think that environmentally aware Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats in the California legislature who passed AB32 would be lining up to oppose fracking this carbon bomb.

One would be wrong.

The people attending Forward on Climate rallies throughout the nation don’t want fracking – the Los Angeles rally that I attended yesterday had prominent anti-fracking signs and speakers. But not a single Democrat in the California legislature will touch a fracking moratorium bill. They’re too busy nibbling around the edges of regulating well casings, as if that somehow makes it all right to frack all this dirty carbon. They’re too busy siding with the Koch brothers, against the people who elected them, and against the climate. They’re going to frack up the Golden State.

Kidnappings, pirates, Halliburton, and me.

The London-based Control Risks holds itself out as “an independent global risk consultancy specialising in helping organizations manage political, integrity, and security risks in complex and hostile environments.” Or, in practical terms, it provides anti-piracy services, handles kidnappings and other crises, and writes white papers analyzing terrorism risks in various countries. One suspects that this expertise doesn’t come cheap. Clients buy discretion for large sums of cash, but SourceWatch notes “a long history of working with the energy sector, covering ground in Algeria, Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Sudan and Yemen.”  And now it’s advising unnamed, but presumably energy-oriented and rich, businesses how to handle fracking activists.

Because a worried upstate New York farmer has a lot in common with a Somali pirate.

The splash page on “The Global Anti-Fracking Movement: What it wants, how it operates, and what’s next” is here. You’re supposed to be able to download the report only by giving an email address to receive more briefings, and if you’re a senior executive in the oil and gas industry you can get the report and a complimentary personal briefing. For those of us who are not senior executives in the oil and gas industry and who don’t want want to give our email address to a shadowy international business that may count Halliburton and Bechtel among its clients, here is the entire report (pdf format).

The report views American environmental activists through the same hostile lens as it uses on kidnappers of Exxon executives. It is shocked to report that “A notable feature of the anti-fracking movement – shared with other social movements such as Occupy – is the extensive use of online social media to disseminate information, organise and mobilise.” (p.8)

The white paper carefully separates those who call for an outright ban from those seeking tighter regulation: “the majority of the anti-fracking movement simply wants tighter environmental regulation of unconventional gas development. With tighter regulation, enforcement and accountability, a sizeable swathe of the anti-fracking movement – from grassroots activists with single-issue grievances to influential environmental NGOs such as the Us’s Natural Resources defense Council (NRdC) – is prepared to drop its objection to hydraulic fracturing.” (p.5) And it goes on to discuss, without actually suggesting that big green groups concerned about climate should co-opt local people concerned about their food and water supply, wink, nudge (p.9):

International environmental NGOs also play a key global networking role. For example, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) each mount anti-fracking advocacy campaigns and support local anti-fracking groups. yet in contrast with grassroots activists, focused primarily on local social, economic and environmental impacts, international environmental NGOs situate unconventional gas extraction largely within their efforts on climate change.

The intervention of international NGOs has inevitably pulled the anti-fracking movement – at the global level – towards the climate change agenda, meaning that purely climate change-focused groups, such as 350.org, have obtained a prominent position. This

has occasionally resulted in friction within the anti-fracking movement, to the extent that some climate change-focused NGOs – though not the three listed above – view unconventional gas as a low carbon alternative to coal. Not only do such groups ignore

pressing local impact concerns, they may also be more amenable to tighter regulation as opposed to an outright ban.

20121007monterey_thumbControl Risks’ final suggestions for handling those pesky activists: “acknowledge grievances,” “engage local communities,” “reduce impacts,” and “create more winners” (pay people).  But nothing about actually listening to the activists, cleaning up wastewater, disclosing toxic fluids, or actually reducing carbon emissions.

California is next in line for a fracking boom, if the clients of Control Risks have their way – the federal Bureau of Land Management’s first auction of fracking leases sold 18,000 acres in ten minutes flat. The divide-and-conquer strategy is just beginning; most large green groups have stayed silent on the woefully insufficient draft regulations recently proposed, Very Serious Editorials opine that full disclosure of fracking fluids is somehow sufficient, bills being introduced echo the call for regulation rather than a moratorium, and efforts within the California Democratic Party to call for a moratorium are being watered down.

As for me, I’m not going to kidnap or terrorize the pro-fracking folk. I just don’t want them doing to the vineyards and suburbs of California what has been done to the farms of Pennsylvania and New York. If you live in California, click here to tell Governor Brown to ban fracking.