Making the case for fracking

Oil rigs in a Kern County oil field. (Photo: Christopher Halloran)

What do comedian Stephen Colbert, the Washington Post editorial board and Gov.  Jerry Brown have in common? They recognize the necessity of hydraulic fracturing.

In an interview on The Late Show with Colbert last November to promote his award-winning movie, Spotlight, actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo scoffed, “What the hell. Who thought of fracking?” Without missing a beat, Colbert replied, “People who need oil. They’re called Americans.”

More than unrealistic, a fracking ban would be counterproductive to our economic, security and environmental interests.

What Americans need is affordable energy. In California, oil and natural gas are produced under the strictest environmental regulations in the country. And 100% of the oil produced in California, stays in California.  Conversely, even if domestic oil production were banned as the activists want, California would simply tanker in more oil, primarily from the Middle East.  This has grave environmental, economic, and social consequences.

During an interview on Meet the Press last year, Gov. Brown explained, “California imports 70 percent of our petroleum products. Our cars drive over 330 billion miles, mostly on petroleum. If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which fracking would do, we would import more oil by train or boat. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Indeed, it doesn’t make sense. But anti-fracking activists like Ruffalo and those who feed him a steady diet of bad science are nothing if not consistent in their insensibilities. The paradox of their latest slogan – “Keep it in the Ground” – unlocks the true motives of anti-oil activists who believe the only responsible oil production is no oil production.

In their recent rebuke of Senator Bernie Sanders’ no-fracking pronouncement, the Washington Post editorial board called such a position “more firmly grounded in ideology than reality” and “utterly unrealistic.”

More than unrealistic, a fracking ban would be counterproductive to our economic, security and environmental interests.  According to a press release from the International Energy Agency (IEA), “In the United States, emissions declined by 2% (in 2015), as a large switch from coal to natural gas use in electricity generation took place.”

From the lights, to the cameras to the computer-generated action scenes that have made him wealthy and famous, Mr. Ruffalo needs fossil fuels – just like the rest of us. Perhaps the greatest difference is that when energy prices dip 41 percent, as they did in 2015 thanks in large part to fracking, the middle-class whose wages have been stagnant for nearly a decade take note.

President Obama, like so many environmental leaders who accept the science behind fracking, acknowledges the benefits of hydraulic fracturing. In a speech at Northwestern University in 2014, he stated, “Meanwhile, our 100-year supply of natural gas is a big factor in drawing jobs back to our shores. Many are in manufacturing – the quintessential middle-class job.”

Ignore the Hollywood stars and bad science and ask yourself, what would California gain from a ban on domestic production of oil and natural gas?

The answer is one that Stephen Colbert, the Washington Post and Governor Brown can agree on: nothing.

Ed’s Note: Rock Zierman is the CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, a non-profit, non-partisan trade association whose members represent approximately 70% of California’s total oil production and 90% of California’s natural gas production.

  • Hope Forpeace

    Fracking does cause harm to people and their environment – don’t let industry tell you otherwise.

    Here’s a compendium of scientific studies showing the harms of fracking:


    • CB

      How in the world does a person like Mr. Zierman find his way into such a position?

      Why in the world does his “non-profit” organisation even exist?

      Fracking California is not merely suicidal because of climate change, but also because it’s an active earthquake zone! You can’t lubricate a fault line and expect nothing to happen. That’s bonkers!

      “Science, 27 September 1968: Disposal of waste fluids by injection into a deep well has triggered earthquakes near Denver, Colorado.”


      “The primary cause of global warming is human activity, most significantly the burning of fossil fuels to drive cars, generate electricity, and operate our homes and businesses.”


  • Maenad

    In Monterey County, gravel pits are regulated more strictly than oil industry, with blanket permits issued decades ago allowing expansion of heavy industrial activity on the Salinas River that threatens our 8 billion dollar agricultural industry, and risks despoiling the world famous natural beauty our booming tourism industry depends upon. One spill or accident and we’re toast, economically, and environmentally, with no recourse for mitigation but taxpayers, with scant mechanism to hold boom and bust polluters responsible for damage. In addition to the risk to our water supply is the location of Monterey County’s oil fields – directly straddling the San Andreas fault – and the scientific evidence that injection wells cause earthquakes.

    The oil industry lobbied and got relaxed export rules from the Obama Administration and are now shipping unprecedented amounts of gas and crude FROM California​. There is no buy local program for a global commodity

    Because Gov. Brown thinks fracking is the new gold rush doesn’t mean citizens are willing to sit idle and wait for our landscape to be ruined, our water polluted, and our community’s health threatened. This historic Monterey County effort has been achieved purely by volunteer efforts of residents with no star power to date. We are now gratified to be receiving national attention and consider that a sign of success and confidence that we will indeed prevail with our vision for a clean energy future.

    With C02 emissions reaching well over 400ppm, yes, we must learn to “Keep it in the Ground,” stop subsidizing the oil companies, and move the dollars to renewable energy research and implementation.

    This new oil industry ploy, “national security” brings to mind the Vietnam war tactic of “burning a village to save it.” What is the meaning of security if our health is ruined, our water polluted, and our landscapes resemble the Dark Side of Mordor?​


  • Ryan

    It is important for opponents to understand that Fracking is not the same as waste water injection. The volumes and rates of fluid injection are very different and critical to differentiating the outcomes for contamination and earthquakes. Please seek to understand the process before you jump the gun.

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