Monday, May 06, 2013

Champagne Flows and Oil Woes

Today’s WSJ has an educational editorial called A Tale of Two Oil States:

More than 400,000 Texans are employed by the oil and gas industry (almost 10 times more than in California) and Mr. Smitherman says the average salary is $100,000 a year. The industry generates about $80 billion a year in economic activity, which exceeds the annual output of all goods and services in 13 individual states.

Now look to California, where oil output is down 21% since 2001, according to Energy Department data, even as the price of oil has soared and now trades in the neighborhood of $95 a barrel. (See the nearby chart.)

This is not because California is running out of oil. To the contrary, California has huge reservoirs offshore and even more in the Monterey shale, which stretches 200 miles south and southeast from San Francisco. The Department of Energy estimates that the Monterey shale contains about 15 billion barrels of oil, which is about double the estimated supply in the Bakken.

Occidental Petroleum, the big oil player in California, has recently purchased leases from the Interior Department to drill in the Monterey shale, but in April a federal judge blocked the breakthrough drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in the state. The judge ordered an environmental review of the drilling process that Texas, North Dakota and other states have safely regulated for years.

A large part of the explanation for the Texas boom and the California bust is the political culture. Despite their cars, California voters have elected politicians who consider fossil fuels to be "dirty energy."

The plaintiffs in the Monterey shale lawsuit were the local chapters of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity. Rita Dalessio, chairwoman of the Ventana chapter of the Sierra Club, said, "We're very excited. We're thrilled" by the judge's ban, adding that "I'm sure the champagne is flowing in San Francisco." This attitude is prevalent among California's elite and wealthy.

This is another all-too-familiar and depressing example of how often the same people who claim to care most about the poor and the middle class are the ones whose actions do the most to damage their opportunities to improve their lots. More jobs and cheaper energy would be a welcome boon to those groups in California. If only there was some way those goals could be realized...