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Saturday, 18 October 2014 07:48

$100 Million in Taxpayer Subsidies to Big Oil Promotes Fracking in California

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anofrackca(Photo: Daniel Lobo)At a time when California is literally on fire from a global warming drought, when the state is running out of water in several regions, as reported in the New York Times: With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate, the last thing we (I am a resident of the Golden State) need is for the oil industry to contaminate our limited fresh water with dozens of toxic chemicals to use for the development of thousands of new fracking wells that would defile and poison our beautiful landscape along the central coast of California.

That’s why organizers from Santa Barbara Water Guardians, Food & Water Watch, and San Luis Obispo Clean Water campaigned to establish an initiative to ban new fracking – Measure P - development starting from Santa Maria through Santa Barbara to Carpinteria for the November 4 ballot. Three weeks of hard work paid off. Three hundred volunteers and 20,000 signatures later—they successfully got the initiative off the ground.

To use a familiar analogy, fighting the most powerful and wealthiest industry in the world is the old David v. Goliath tale.

Oil companies have identified thousands upon thousands of potential fracking drill locations along our beautiful coastal region from Santa Maria to Carpinteria.

Millions of tourists visit the central coast of California because it’s one of the most gorgeous ocean landscapes in the world. Imagine California’s scenic shores cluttered with thousands of ugly methane-polluting fracking wells up and down the coast.

The production of fracking in a drought-stricken, fire-ravaged state would strike any rational person as insane. Many cities are requiring tough restrictions on water usage, and should residents go over the required limit, they’ll have to pay penalty charges.

Despite California’s drought crisis, fracking requires up to 2 million gallons of water a day. Imagine thousands of wells using millions of gallons of water. And that’s only the beginning.

After that—fracking involves a long list of dangerous and polluting "enhanced" extraction techniques, including constant releases of methane, a greenhouse gas emission that is heavily contributing to global warming conditions. In fact, scientists have determined that global warming is the primary reason why California is experiencing the worst drought in the state’s history.

According to a recent Reuters’ report, “California Drought Worsened by Climate Change, Scientists Say, the high-pressure ridge is obstinately parked over the Pacific Ocean for the past two winters. This ridge is blocking storms from hitting California, and stubborn ridges of this kind are much more likely to form from greenhouse gases.

As for the Goliath oil industry, the deck is heavily stacked, profits trump all other considerations, including taking what little water is left from California’s agricultural lands and contaminating millions of gallons of that valuable water with dozens of toxic chemicals for natural gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”

Frackinginvolves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock and extract oil and gas. The practice has been halted or banned in 12 states due to water contamination issues, earthquakes and other problems.  It also uses a method called “steam-injection,” a water-intensive process that involves steam-heating oil to 500 degrees to extract the gas from the ground.

California is experiencing heat-breaking temperature records for the last four years. But if the oil-frackers get their way, they will add 500 degrees of hot oil to the drought and rising temperatures. It is the most heat-intensive form of oil production and is linked to groundwater contamination. For instance, a recent spill in Cold Lake, Canada contaminated a lake and aquifer. In the Orcutt oil field near Santa Maria, there have been 94 unexpected oil "seeps." ¹

I’ve been writing about the fossil fuel industry’s reciprocal relationship with the US government for some time at BuzzFlash at Truthout, and it’s a never ending tale of horrors and disillusionment. So you would think by now that nothing would shock me. We know that the oil oligarchs place profits above our security, health, nature, animals, and now with the acceleration of global warming, we are facing the possibility of mass extinction if we continue to rely on polluting fossil fuels for energy.

But when all is said and done, ultimately, the US government is the culprit for passing some of the most evil laws conceivable that benefit the oil industry at our expense. Sadly, Governor Jerry “Big Oil” Brown, who was ahead of his time in the 1970s for his renewable energy and “less is more” philosophy, is now the biggest fracking salesman on the West coast.

California is home to one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the country: the Monterey Shale. It has 13.7 billion barrels of oil locked underground and fossil fuel companies are spending millions trying to dig it up with hydraulic fracturing techniques. If they’re successful, this oil would be above and beyond what our best scientists say we already can’t afford to burn. Governor Brown’s latest actions make it clear he’s excited by the potential of the Monterey oil play and is paving the way for increased fracking across the state.² Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton are also global frack-pushers.

That our elected officials arrange dirty oil deals behind closed doors is nothing new. But when I learned that Americans are paying for Big Oil’s multimillion dollar advertisement campaigns, such as the one on Measure P, it floored me.

In addition to royalties and billions of tax dollars for subsidies, we’re paying $100 million a year to the oil industry, compliments of the federal government, that is possibly helping to finance oil campaigns worth millions of dollars in media advertisements.

Thus when Californians see the perpetual gas industry’s “No on P” ads, they should know that they are likely flipping the bill for those multimillion dollar TV ads with public federal taxes.

As Jeanne Blackwell, representative of the San Luis Obispo’s Clean Water Action, explained, “Oil companies are given $100 million a year of taxpayer money to spend on these campaigns. Section 999 under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created the Research Partnership to secure Energy for America (RPSEA). Section 999 creates an "Oil and Gas Lease Income" fund "from federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases." The Feds put in $50 million to get the ball rolling.

As for the oil industry’s claim that fracking contributes to the community via taxes, that is not a tenable claim. Furthermore, the government has given the fossil fuel industry an exempt card on taxes. There are so many beneficial tax loopholes that at the end of the day, Big Oil pays practically nothing in return. Instead, tax payers give the oil industry billions of dollars; an industry that makes a trillion dollars a year in profits. So if you’re wondering why there is no federal funding for schools, Medicare, VA hospitals and food stamps, think Big Oil and wars because that’s where most of your tax dollars are going.

As you can imagine, there is little public funding to support TV, radio or press advertisements against the oil industry’s stacked deck. The oil ads have been running day and night, conveying misleading messages of fear that have nothing to do with fracking. For instance, the oil ads claim that the fire department would lack funding and that jobs would be lost if Measure P passed. Did it occur to the oil-frackers that if all the water is being used for fracking, there’ll be no water left for putting out forest fires and aiding communities that are caught in the flames of spreading wildfires?

Given the high Latino population in Santa Maria, the oil industry claims that Measure P is “racist” and that Latinos will lose jobs if Measure P passes. This is misleading because there are very few job opportunities in the oil industry for the reason that the machinery does most of the work. Jobs are often temporary; once the wells are operating, not much labor is required. Recent statistics have shown that the coal, oil, and natural gas industries require steadily fewer jobs as high-cost production equipment takes the place of human labor.

And yet despite the odds of having all the money and power in the world, the gas-frackers are running a tad scared. They know this ain’t good ol’ boy Texas. Californians are not easily duped by the oil industry’s phony ads. And that’s why the frackers are preparing to sue if Measure P passes.

On October 7, a meeting was held by the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors to determine whether or not Measure P specifies that Santa Barbara County can establish a process for handling its exemptions. According to the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara: “The Board voted to approve exemptions in a 3-2 vote, confirming that owners of existing oil operations won't have to take any action under Measure P and can continue to operate as always. Additionally, it was clarified that if a company wants to engage in new high-intensity oil production, the company may apply for an exemption from the ban authorized by Measure P. Thus, for example, oil companies may apply for an exemption from the measure if they claim the ban would unconstitutionally ‘take’ their property.”

Fracking has been documented in 10 California counties — Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter, Kings and Ventura. Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells hundreds of times in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel.

In other words, exemptions under Measure P are intended to allow current oil production to continue and to protect the County from legal risk when implementing the measure, if passed.  According to the Environmental Defense Center’s report, “Measure P only applies to new, high-intensity oil production operations. These operations would be banned because they use large amounts of water, often with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals; threaten our ground water, health, agriculture, tourism and property values; risk potentially triggering an earthquake along one of our major fault lines; and generate tons of greenhouse gas pollution, worsening climate change.”

The Board of Supervisors’ meeting was open to the public. Many Santa Barbara proponents of Measure P remember the horrific 1969 oil disaster and didn’t want to see further devastation due to voter-deceiving ‘No on P’ TV ads.

I was told by several Measure P proponents that the oil industry allegedly recruited students and paid them and others to attend the meeting in order to oppose Measure P.

Jeanne Blackwell, exasperated by the dirty tactics used by the oil industry, remarked, “The oil companies were there in force of course. They had hired local students to attend, they gave them green tee shirts to wear, and took directions from a ring leader who told them when to raise their hands and signs, ‘No on P’. It was quite the show. A farce really.”

I had to laugh at the “green shirts”. Just like BP’s ridiculous logo of green and yellow, as if it were a solar company, once again the oil deceivers try to appear as “green energy” companies.

When we have the capability to produce clean, affordable, renewable energy from solar and wind in the sunshine state, it makes no sense to pollute California’s valuable and limited water for fracking during the worst drought in history.

As Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner put it, "Renewable wind and solar companies are poised to tackle our energy crisis and create millions of new jobs worldwide."

We shall see if the oil industry’s multimillion dollar ads, paid for indirectly by the taxpayers, will succeed in persuading the voters—or—are central coast residents smart enough to see through the oil industry’s misleading media campaign?

Stay tuned…



1. http://www.sbcountywaterguardians.org/whats-at-stake/

2. www.BigOilBrown.org

Jacqueline Marcus lives in California. She is the editor of ForPoetry.com  and EnvironmentalPress.com and author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy at Cuesta College. Her essay, The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society appeared at the North American Review blog.