Election day is fast approaching and, in a pattern becoming all too familiar, oil companies are spending big to defeat citizen-led initiatives to halt fracking in California.
By last August, oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, which is leading the charge against anti-fracking measures in the sate, had raised around $3 million. Now, just one week before the election, that number has more than doubled to just under $7.7 million, per the California Secretary of State’s campaign finance database.
Chevron is the leading donor to Californians for Energy Independence, having made two donations totaling about $2.6 million. Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy have kicked in some $2 million apiece, and Exxon has given $300,000. Every single dollar received by CEI has come from an oil company.
Once the polls close, we’ll know how well that money was spent. One thing is clear, however: Big Oil has not succeeded in buying the hearts and minds of many Californians, who overwhelmingly reject the plans to frack the Golden State, polls have shown.
Residents of Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P on November 4, a ballot initiative that would ban fracking and other “extreme oil extraction techniques,” including cyclic steam injection and acidization. Lauren Hanson, who serves on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, wrote in an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent:
When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.
According to the Santa Barbara Independent, grassroots activists have raised $284,000 in support of Measure P, almost entirely from individuals and small donors, while Big Oil has spent $5.6 million to defeat the measure.
Proponents of San Benito County’s fracking ban initiative, Measure J, estimate that they have also been outspent by the industry, to the tune of $1.9 million to $120,000, according to campaign finance disclosure forms on file with the county.
“The oil companies are trying to crush these initiatives because they know it’s going to lead to momentum elsewhere,” says Adam Scow of Food & Water Watch.
Mendocino County will also vote on a fracking ban on November 4. Butte County will have a fracking ban on the ballot in 2016, but a campaign against the ban is already underway, led by none other than Californians for Energy Independence.
Of course, what’s happening in California is not an anomaly. The oil industry has used military psychological warfare tactics in the past to defeat anti-fracking campaigns, so it’s no surprise that Big Oil is fighting every community looking to regulate, ban, or otherwise put a halt to fracking at the local level.
The well-funded counter campaign by drilling proponents is intimidating, and not a little discouraging: Next to looming billboards, daily mail campaigns, and substantial tv and radio air time, Frack Free Denton yard signs, t-shirts, and bumper stickers – which have cropped up all over the city – are flimsy by comparison. Yet the aggressiveness with which drilling advocates are targeting the anti-fracking movement indicates big-dollar companies are just as intimidated and perturbed by a potential ban.
Fracking proponents in Texas have gone so far as to make baseless allegations that Russia is funding the anti-fracking campaign in an attempt to scare folks away from voting for the ban.
When citizens of Mansfield, Ohio attempted to pass a “Community Bill of Rights” in 2012, oil and gas companies launched an astroturf campaign to fight back. And when voters in Longmont, CO approved a ban on fracking within city limits that same year, the oil industry sued the city.
In fact, Colorado almost had a statewide fracking ban to vote on this year, but oil and gas companies reached a preemptive backroom deal with Governor John Hickenlooper that caused those initiatives to be removed from the ballot before the people of Colorado could even have their say.
Bans on fracking do pose something of an existential threat to the oil and gas industry, so it’s no surprise that they’re fighting these citizen-led measures so aggressively. As a new report from the Post Carbon Institute, “Drilling Deeper,” shows, the rosy projections of shale oil and gas output pushed by the industry (and abetted by the US Energy Information Agency, the Department of Energy’s statistics arm) are not borne out by a deep analysis of actual production numbers.
Because fracked wells decline much more quickly than conventional wells, companies need to drill more and more wells to keep production numbers up—what PCI has dubbed the “exploration treadmill.” If California and Colorado adopt fracking bans, that could lead to bans across the country. And if oil and gas companies have to fight every state, every county, and every municipality in the US over fracking bans in order to stay on the drilling treadmill, fracking—already a costly endeavor—ceases to make economic sense.
Image Credit: Close-up of a man’s hand putting his vote in the ballot box by roibu / Shutterstock.com