California’s reputation is greener than Kermit the Frog. But that verdant veneer hides a dirty secret. Despite a governor who considers himself a climate leader, we’re still the third biggest oil-producing state in America. And 2015 rammed home reminder after reminder of the terrible toll this insidious industry imposes on our health and environment.
From a massive manmade methane volcano currently spewing tons of noxious gas into L.A. communities to a massive pipeline spill that blackened beaches and killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals, last year delivered an appalling series of examples of how California is being victimized by a reckless oil industry — and our oil-friendly state regulators.
When Gov. Jerry Brown visited December’s Paris climate summit, he talked about California’s role in the global warming fight. But here are five devastating developments from 2015 that the governor worked overtime not to address:
1. Aliso Canyon’s massive gas leak:
Thousands of people in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles have been driven from their homes by one of the worst environmental disasters in California history.
The culprit: a massive leak from “SS-25,” a damaged gas-storage well in the Aliso Canyon oil field behind their homes. That leak, which has spewed out tens of thousands of tons of methane, has filled neighborhoods with the noxious smell of rotten eggs and caused residents to suffer nosebleeds, headaches and nausea.
The leak began in late October. Months later, it’s still not fixed.
Gov. Brown finally declared an emergency last week. But immense damage has already been done to surrounding neighborhoods and our climate. This leak is now California’s single largest source of planet-warming pollution.
The governor’s slow reaction is especially troubling because his oil officials helped set the stage for the Porter Ranch disaster with their hands-off, industry-friendly approach to underground injection operations like this one.
Gov. Brown fired two top regulators who raised grave concerns about the oil and gas industry’s underground injection activities, and the state has known for years that aging natural gas infrastructure was a disaster waiting to happen. But the governor’s administration failed even to require safety plans and other measures that would have helped prevent this disaster.
2. Refugio oil spill near Santa Barbara
On May 19, 2015, a pipeline on the California coast near Santa Barbara ruptured. Before crews could stem the leak, it spewed more than 100,000 gallons of dirty crude onto the coast and into the ocean.
As dead dolphins with mouths full of tar washed up on shore, the spill contaminated beaches as far south as Los Angeles. The full wildlife death toll from the spill will likely never be known since biologists say that many animals killed by the spill likely sunk beneath the waves.
Yet just weeks after this spill, Gov. Brown’s oil regulators approved 13 new offshore fracks in oil wells near Long Beach — greenlighting use of a toxic technique that increases the risk of well failure and oil spills.
3. Oil waste contamination of protected underground water supplies
2015 marked the fourth year of California’s devastating drought – and it was also when state oil officials admitted allowing oil companies to drill more than 2,000 illegal injection wells into scores of protected underground water supplies from Monterey down to Kern and Los Angeles counties.
The oil industry, it emerged, is dumping millions of gallons of waste fluid a day into California’s clean-water aquifers. This fluid is toxic, dangerous stuff that commonly contains cancer-causing chemicals like benzene.
Yet the Brown administration has so far shut down just a few dozen of the industry’s illegal waste disposal wells – allowing thousands of other illegal injection wells to continue operating in protected aquifers.
4. California crops irrigated with oil waste
Was the orange you were eating grown with waste fluid from an oil well? In 2015, it emerged that some farmers in California’s water-starved Central Valley have grown so desperate they’re using oil wastewater to grow crops.
Yet Gov. Brown’s administration has done nothing to halt the practice — and officials are actually expanding agricultural use of this toxic fluid. That’s right: Even as oil companies in California use and contaminate millions of gallons of water a day in fracking, water flooding, and other extreme extraction operations, regulators are pushing for more use of oil waste for irrigation.
5. Gov. Brown got private oil mapping done by state workers
From San Luis Obispo to L.A., Californians have pleaded with oil regulators for more information about fracking and dangerous drilling in their communities. Real answers have been tough to come by.
But in November, it emerged that Gov. Brown gets a very different level of personal service from the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.
Gov. Brown asked workers to research oil resources on his 2,700-acre ranch in Northern California. Within days the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources supplied the governor with a free 51-page historical report and geological assessment, as well as a personalized satellite-imaged geological and drilling map.
These five events paint a devastating picture: Last year, the oil industry’s corrosive effects on California’s communities and environment were crystal clear.
But in 2016, there’s likely to be a very different theme. Calls to finally put an end to extreme extraction are gaining momentum across the state, and communities are fighting back at both the local and state levels.
This year, Californians will push Gov. Brown to be a true climate leader — and to finally make big strides to ending fracking and dangerous drilling in the Golden State.
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