Monterey ShaleCross-posted at WLF’s contributor page

With a budget profoundly in the red and an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, one would think that elected officials and citizens’ groups in California would be figuring out how to move forward development of the massive shale “play” shown here to the right — The Monterey Shale. But instead, the same crowd that bestowed such regulatory gems as Proposition 65 on California’s business environment is busily plotting how to kill this golden goose.

Three proposals are currently advancing in the state Assembly to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in California until various studies can be done to definitively establish that the six decade-old gas extraction technique is 100% safe. The proposals eschew the traditional risk-based U.S. regulatory approach and embrace the European style of precaution, which demands ex post proof of safety even where no current evidence reveals environmental or health harms. Not surprisingly, a who’s who of activist groups support the bills, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, which has an ongoing suit against the state regarding hydraulic fracturing regulations. Even California’s state law schools are pitching in, with UC-Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment releasing a well-timed “report” calling for more controls.

“Let’s study the issue” is a non-threatening euphemism activists and government use in place of the scarier actual outcome sought: let’s forestall the activity being studied for as long as possible. New York’s moratorium on natural gas extraction has been dragging on for five years, with no timetable for release of the state health commission’s study of fracking (“I will continue to work on this until I am comfortable” says the Commissioner). While celebrity activists (or fracktivists as California-based think tank The Breakthrough Institute calls them) like Mark Ruffalo applaud the ponderous New York delays, jobs and revenue flow to neighboring states like Pennsylvania. Have any of the California legislators supporting the Assembly bills seen what natural gas development has done to nearby North Dakota’s economy?

The emergence of natural gas as an abundant, more efficient source of domestic energy than coal threatens the environmental activist movement’s utopian vision of alternative fuels. So hydraulic fracturing must be stopped. One supporter of a California moratorium from was clear on this: “We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas,” calling natural gas “at best a kind of fad diet.” The three organizations listed as “co-sponsors” of one California fracking bill, AB 1301 – Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, and Food & Water Watch – each support outright bans on hydraulic fracturing.

The debate is ongoing in California, and as we learned from last year’s battle over mandatory biotech food labeling, when the public is fully educated about the negative ramifications of feel-good proposals, the best outcome for Californians can be reached. Here’s hoping that the facts can battle their way through the hype and emotion, so reasoned decisions can be made.