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.

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