2.19.13 - California - FEATURED

Will oil and gas produce a more golden future for California?

The Golden State might be looking a little more golden. That’s the gist of a piece in the most recent issue of The Economist about California’s plans to deal with its huge bounty of shale oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California’s Monterey/Santos shale play might hold an astounding 15.4 billion barrels of oil.

How much is that? Enough to meet California’s current level of petroleum consumption for 44 years.

It’s also more than four times the technically recoverable resources of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota or the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, two massive formations that, in combination with the Barnett and Marcellus Shales, are already changing the U.S. energy equation. The United States is now on track to becoming something few would have predicted just a few years ago – a major energy exporter.

The real question is: Will California join in this energy bonanza, or will it remain aloof despite the tremendous potential for new job creation and badly needed government revenues?

Signs are that Golden State leaders recognize the potential economic benefits and additional tax revenue that could accrue from allowing increased oil and gas production to occur in a responsible manner. Not long after taking office, Governor Jerry Brown felt compelled to remove two state officials who had been rejecting the vast majority of applications for drilling permits in California. He replaced them with regulators not instinctively hostile to oil and gas production.

It is easy to see why Governor Brown acted. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation reported that the state’s permitting delays were holding up $1 billion in capital investment every year, while preventing the positive economic impacts that investment would bring.

More recently, a study of the 1,200-acre Inglewood oil field in Los Angeles – the largest urban oil field in the United States – found that hydraulic fracturing operations could be conducted safely and would not harm the environment.

That is surely good news as state officials prepare rules to govern future unconventional oil and gas production from hydraulic fracturing. An initial draft suggests a desire by California officials to allow safe, responsible energy development from unconventional oil and gas sources like shale, rather than using regulatory processes to stifle such development. The rules won’t be finalized until later this year.

Energy expert Mark Mills noted recently in The Wall Street Journal that opening up the Monterey Shale field to full-scale production could provide overall economic benefits to the state of $1 trillion.

He added, “One can only imagine the impact on California’s education system, social programs, infrastructure, and even energy-tech R&D. Moreover, with that kind of revenue, Sacramento tax collections could wipe out debt and deficits.”

Let’s hope California policymakers imagine it as well.