Let’s Make California’s Fracking Ban a Reality

Published Mar 11, 2024

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Climate and Energy

… and move the Golden State off oil! California is on the cusp of long-fought for, urgently needed climate action. We need to make sure it passes and build on this momentum for more.

… and move the Golden State off oil! California is on the cusp of long-fought for, urgently needed climate action. We need to make sure it passes and build on this momentum for more.

Over a decade ago, Food & Water Watch joined allies to launch a statewide campaign to ban fracking in California. A year later we helped launch a coalition — Californians Against Fracking — to coordinate the campaign. Now, after years of tireless grassroots organizing, a fracking ban is poised to become a reality. 

In February, the Golden State unveiled a plan to officially phase out fracking. While we need much more action to address the climate emergency, this is an essential first step.

Now, as Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration prepares to finalize the rule, we need to make it loud and clear: Californians want and need a fracking ban, now, and an end to all drilling and dirty energy in the state.

Building a Campaign to Ban Fracking in California

Food & Water Watch joins allies at the launch of the Californians Against Fracking campaign in 2013.

California is thought of as an environmental leader, but it’s actually the seventh-highest oil-producing state in the country. It was number three in 2011, the year before we began our campaign.

The Governor at the time was Jerry Brown. Despite his global reputation as an environmentalist, he was a cheerleader for the California oil industry and fracking in particular.

He accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry during his career. And at its peak, his administration was approving hundreds of fracking permits a year.

Food & Water Watch joins at a 2015 rally in Oakland, CA. As Governor Brown prepared to head to the Paris Climate Conference, we called on him to ban fracking.

How did we move from that situation to the cusp of a fracking ban? There were many factors, but here are a few key ones:

1. Gathering wins and changing the narrative at the local level

Organizations mobilized to pass fracking bans across the state and protect communities from the oil and gas industry. We successfully passed bans on fracking in six counties, including Mendicino, Butte, San Benito, and Monterey counties, the last two being oil-producing counties. 

We also passed measures to take on oil production in Ventura County and elsewhere, and helped stop drilling at the local level. In December 2022, the Los Angeles City Council and County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban new drilling and phase out existing operations.

2. Big mobilizations and birddogging governors

With Californians Against Fracking and Last Chance Alliance, we organized the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland which drew over 8,000 people. Together, we also organized other major mobilizations in Sacramento and the “Brown’s Last Chance” action in San Francisco. There, we demanded Governor Brown to stop drilling at his own climate summit. 

We also did a lot of birddogging, a tactic where organizers go to public events that officials are attending and ask them to take a stand. We followed Governors Brown and Newsom up and down the state, calling for action, making sure they could never forget how important this issue is to so many Californians.

3. Strong leadership from people directly impacted by fracking and drilling

There was significant mobilization in Kern County, Los Angeles County, and Ventura County, led by communities impacted by the oil and gas industry. These communities face dangerous air and water pollution from drilling operations — sometimes literally across the street from the homes they live in and the schools their children attend.

Their leadership brought poignant personal stories to the statewide narrative and moral clarity to the call to ban fracking. It also helped put important political pressure on successive governors.

4. We shifted public opinion nationally

The California campaign has not happened in a vacuum. While California governors like to think of the state as a leader, it became a laggard. New York banned fracking in 2014, Maryland in 2017, and Washington state in 2019 —- yet California kept on fracking and drilling. 

At the national level, we organized the Americans Against Fracking Coalition and the March for a Clean Energy Revolution. The powerful resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline by water protectors at Standing Rock further focused national attention on the threat of fossil fuels to water and communities.

We joined and helped organize major national actions in New York and Washington, D.C., including last year’s March to End Fossil Fuels. The march saw more than 75,000 activists join the biggest mobilization against fossil fuels in U.S. history. 

These actions have helped shift public opinion away from fracking. A majority of Americans have opposed fracking since 2016, with even stronger numbers in California. 

5. The climate crisis continued to intensify 

Over the past ten years, California has seen many faces of climate change. It has endured drought that — along with out-of-control corporate water abuse — has dried up wells, taking drinking water out of families’ faucets. It has fought devastating wildfires that flattened whole towns.

At the same time, the already-strong science has become even stronger. Voices from the scientific community have risen up against fossil fuels. It’s clear our planet can’t handle any more abuse, and the need for a swift transition off fossil fuels could not be more urgent and apparent. 

California Needs to Ban Fracking — and Move Off All Fossil Fuels

Governor Newsom saw these changes and openly opposed fracking during his campaign in 2018, breaking ties with Governor Brown on this issue. It took until 2021, but he eventually announced his intention to ban fracking in the state, and his agencies have not issued a fracking permit since. The recently announced rule will finalize this decade-long effort to ban the practice.

But banning fracking is just one step in a larger effort to move California off fossil fuels. The state continues to approve new drilling and rework permits for existing wells. We need to stop all new permits and quickly transition off fossil fuels. 

Further, two years ago, under the leadership of the VISION coalition and in conjunction with Last Chance Alliance, the legislature passed a bill mandating a 3,200-foot buffer between new oil permits and homes, schools, hospitals, and other sensitive sites.

Unfortunately, Big Oil spent millions on dirty tactics to get a referendum on this bill, it and will continue pouring funds into efforts ahead of the vote in November. But California voters will have the final say, and it is critical we get the turnout we need to preserve the buffer zone and protect families.

In the very short term though, we need to get this fracking ban over the finish line. There is currently a comment period underway that ends on March 27. Join us in submitting a comment calling on the state to finalize the fracking ban and expand it to include cyclic steam, a similar and pervasive drilling practice. 

Update (June 27, 2024): Yesterday, the Big Oil industry group California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) dropped its ballot measure challenging California’s 2022 setback law. Ahead of the planned referendum, Food & Water Watch joined frontline community members to counter Big Oil’s dirty tactics and big spending. The withdrawal of CIPA’s ballot measure is a testament to the past few month’s dedicated community organizing.

While we celebrate this grassroots victory, we will continue to fight against the oil and gas industry. And we won’t stop until every Californian is safe from dangerous drilling and all fossil fuels are completely phased out in the Golden State.

Take action before the comment period ends on March 27: Tell Governor Newsom and California regulators to ban ALL fracking in California.

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