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California Oil Among World's Dirtiest

November 9, 2017

Three-quarters of California’s oil is as climate-damaging as Canadian tar sands crude, according to a report released today at the UN COP23 climate change conference in Bonn, Germany.

Oil Stain: How Dirty Crude Undercuts California’s Climate Progress found that eight of the state’s 10 largest-producing oil fields produce very dirty crude with greenhouse gas emissions comparable to tar sands oil. The report detailed how the state’s dirty oil problem is compounded by policies that incentivize crude production.

The analysis comes as corrupt California Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to address the U.N. conference. Brown arrives at the conference on Nov. 11.  

“California is tarnishing its climate leadership by encouraging oil companies to extract millions of barrels a year of some of the planet’s dirtiest crude,” said report author Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “Our state’s huge reserve of dirty crude is a loaded gun pointed at our future. We can’t let the oil industry pull the trigger.”

Using lifecycle emissions estimates and state oil field data, the Center’s analysis found that three-quarters of oil produced in California is, barrel for barrel, as carbon-intensive as Canada’s tar sands crude. Nearly two-thirds of remaining reserves in 18 of the largest oilfields in the San Joaquin and Los Angeles Basins is similarly climate-damaging, totaling 6.1 billion barrels of particularly polluting crude.

Increasing use of extreme-extraction techniques like steam flooding and fracking has worsened the climate harms of the state’s oil production.

Many of the oilfields evaluated in the report operate next to homes and schools, releasing toxic air pollutants that cause cancer, asthma and other health problems. Drilling occurs disproportionally in communities of color who already suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation.

In addition, Brown diverts precious clean water to the oil industry and then allows contaminated oilfield wastewater to be sold to farmers to use on food crops and toxic oilfield waste to be dumped into California's water aquifers.

Despite the climate and public-health harms of its oil extraction, California is currently the third-largest oil-producing state. Government hand-outs, weak regulation and little or no oversight encourage aggressive and destructive oil development in the state. California regulators issued more than 3,300 drilling permits for oil and gas wells in 2015 alone.