Opinion | Newsom’s Guide to Ban Fracking

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the media in Los Angeles, April 1.


patrick t. fallon/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President Biden has been taking his climate cues from California, which is why

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s

order banning fracking late last week is sure to cause tremors beyond the state’s borders.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Mr. Newsom said. “As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children, I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

Legislation that would have banned hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, and curtailed most oil production in the state’s Central Valley died in the state Senate earlier this month due to opposition from moderate Democrats and trades unions. Leftwing groups then turned up the heat on Mr. Newsom. With a recall election now all but certain, the Governor doesn’t want to give anyone on the left reason to challenge him.

As recently as last fall the Governor asserted he couldn’t ban fracking by fiat. “We simply don’t have that authority,” he said. He was right. Prohibiting fracking at once would also violate the Constitution’s takings clause and require the state to compensate drillers and landowners.

Mr. Newsom is instead directing the state’s Department of Conservation to initiate a rule-making to cease new fracking permits by 2024. In the meantime, Mr. Newsom says the department will “operationalize its updated mandate to protect public health and the environment”—i.e., tighten regulation and slow-roll permits.

Fracking provides from 2% to 20% of the state’s oil production, according to estimates that vary in part based on how the process is defined. But horizontal drilling combined with high-pressure injection of fluids have helped independent producers extract more oil from older and less productive fields, which has preserved thousands of high-paying jobs.

The oil and gas industry employs some 150,000 workers in the state who earn on average $80,500 a year. Mr. Newsom on Friday essentially told them to prepare for a career move by directing all oil extraction to be phased out by 2045. It might not take that long on the state’s climate policy trajectory.

California was once among the nation’s top oil producers, but production has plunged roughly 60% since the mid-1980s as regulatory costs and cumbersome permitting have retarded investment. Wildcatters and later oil giants left California and made big shale plays in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota.

California has also restricted oil pipelines, so foreign oil imports have increased to compensate for reduced domestic production. In 1982 California produced 61.4% of its oil consumption and imported 5.6%. In 2019 29.7% of the oil Californians consumed was produced in the state while 58.4% was imported—mostly from the Middle East and South America.

Mr. Newsom last year banned sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, but California’s thirst for oil won’t ebb soon. The state will thus have to import more oil by tanker to compensate for reduced production from his fracking ban. This will increase global CO2 emissions. In other words, Mr. Newsom’s climate gesture is counterproductive.

Candidate Biden denied last fall that he would ban fracking but let slip during a debate that he would “transition from the oil industry.” Mr. Newsom is showing him how.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg. Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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