California Governor talks ‘transition’ from fossil fuels

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 26, 2019

California will look seriously at transitioning from fossil fuels, though the shift won’t happen quickly, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday near the site of a Chevron Corp. oil spill.

After visiting the energy firm’s Cymric Oil Field in Kern County, Newsom noted the state put $1.5 million in its latest budget to study how to cut fossil fuel use.

“This is an economy that built this state, parts of this state are dependent on it,” Newsom said in a video published by BakersfieldNow. “And I want to begin to transition, but I want to do it thoughtfully, and I want to paint a picture of what that transition looks like.

“I want to be honest with people, that we’re not going to leave everybody behind, that we really have a plan,” Newsom added. “That’s why we put money on the budget to actually put the first state effort and energy into a real plan on transition.”

The new fiscal 2020 California budget allocates funds to “identify strategies to decrease demand and supply of fossil fuels.” It marks a sharp departure from the tenure of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who left in January. Brown was a fierce advocate for action to limit climate change, calling it an existential threat. But he largely ignored pleas from green groups and several corporations to end oil and gas drilling in the state.

Brown said in 2016 that people were “burning up gasoline that is being shipped from Iraq, from Russia, from Venezuela and all sorts of other places. … So whatever we don’t do here, we are going to get from somewhere else until we can get that moratorium on driving, which I haven’t heard proposed yet by anybody.”

California produced 174 million barrels of crude oil in 2017, about 5% of national production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The Golden State’s production has dropped from a recent high of nearly 205 million gallons in 2014.

Newsom noted that “earlier I drove here, and I fly a lot. … I have to be held to account, and I think all of us [do], to that reality.”

Newsom made his comments after inspecting one of the largest oil spills in California history. Approximately 974,400 gallons of oil and wastewater seeped from the Chevron site into the surrounding area over the last two months, according to Last Chance Alliance, a coalition of environmental, health, justice, faith, labor and consumer organizations calling on California’s elected leaders to stop new fossil fuel projects and phase out oil and gas use.

California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources has ordered Chevron to “immediately take all measures to stop flow from surface expressions and prevent any new surface expressions near the subject well.”

Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group for the largest oil companies in the region, declined to comment on Newsom’s statements.

Adding ‘pressure’

Newsom spoke in a classroom near the Chevron oil spill, and acknowledged that children and teachers at the school were likely tied to the oil and gas industry.

“I’ve got to look them in the eyes and say before we do anything precipitously … that we have their backs,” Newsom said, adding that “no one should be concerned” by drastic actions on the part of state regulators.

“But I want to lean toward the future, and we’re going to put on a little more pressure to do that than we’ve seen in the past. I’m not going to deny that either,” he said. “I’ve been very consistent, and I really believe low-carbon green growth, changing the way we produce and consume energy, is California’s identity.”

Newsom said that he’d initially been warned not to go to the Chevron site because of health concerns but that yesterday the state’s Department of Fish and Game director “suggests there’s no evidence of that” from ongoing monitoring. In terms of the oil seepage, he said Chevron seemed “to be getting a handle on this, though we’re not out of the woods.”

Newsom said the cause of the spill is still unknown, but that responders’ “first impression” is that something went wrong with a 2004 oil well that had been capped.