House Republicans hailing from California, led by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, are sending a preemptive warning to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to ensure that a law he signed last month doesn't get in the way of the Golden State's potential to revive its oil industry.
The new state law sets the wheels in motion for Brown's administration to regulate advanced drilling technologies, including hydraulic fracturing, which has been key to developing oil and natural-gas resources trapped in deep rock formations — but is controversial for its environmental risks, including water contamination.
"Any hydraulic fracturing regulations must not end up being a solution in search of a problem," McCarthy and more than a dozen other California Republicans, including House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, wrote in a letter to Brown dated Thursday.
California has long been a top oil-producing state — particularly in McCarthy's district around Bakersfield — but its production has declined over the last few decades. The GOP lawmakers say in their letter that with the oil resources of the Monterey Shale formation, which spans much of the San Joaquin Valley, "California is literally sitting on top of a sea of Black Gold that could put our energy supply and economic prosperity in our own hands, not the hands of foreign nations."
They point to a 2011 report by the federal Energy Information Administration that found the Monterey formation to be the largest shale-oil formation in the United States. It's estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil, or 65 percent of the total shale oil resources in the United States. That's almost four times as much as what EIA estimates is underground in Western North Dakota, where oil production over the last several years has catapulted the state to second place behind Texas in petroleum output.
"It is absolutely imperative that the new permitting program take into account the realities of how the oil and natural gas industry conducts their budgeting and planning efforts, scheduling of drilling rigs, and other routine daily activities," the Republicans wrote. "Unless the newly created program reflects these realities, we are concerned that energy production in our state will be severely curtailed."
Mark Nechodom, who as the state's Department of Conservation director is Brown's top oil and natural-gas regulator, told National Journal in an interview last week that fracking has been used actively in California for 40 years. "And in California there has not been one record of reported damage directly to the use of hydraulic fracturing," Nechodom said.
Still, environmentalists and residents around the state are concerned about the environmental risks associated with fracking, including water contamination, and the potential for companies to employ the technology more to access previously untapped reserves. Since fracking has not been officially regulated, Nechodom concedes his department doesn't have an accurate picture of how prevalent fracking is throughout the state.
Nechodom referenced the national debate over fracking, centered in places like Pennsylvania and Colorado, as a major reason why his department is taking a closer look.
"Given the great nationwide wave of concern, we at the Department of Conservation are treating this as an opportunity to again embrace public demand for knowledge and transparency," Nechodom said. "This is an opportunity for people to learn where their oil comes from, just the same way we want to teach people where their milk and water come from."