For Immediate Release, November 13, 2013

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 632-5316,  

Nation's Top Climate Scientists to Gov. Brown: Halt California Fracking

James Hansen, Michael Mann, 18 Other Experts Say State's Dirty Oil Production Threatens Climate

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Twenty leading climate experts today called on Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on fracking in California. In a letter delivered this morning, retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen of Columbia University, Michael Mann of Penn State University, Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University and other experts say fracking and other extreme oil and gas extraction techniques disrupt the climate and harm California’s efforts to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Allowing fracking in California threatens to undermine Gov. Brown's own crucial efforts to fight climate disruption,” said Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University, who signed the letter. “I respect the governor’s work on climate issues, but he should acknowledge the danger fracking pollution poses to his legacy as a leader in the battle to head off a climate crisis.”

The climate experts’ letter — which was organized by the Center for Biological Diversity — notes that much of the oil currently extracted in California is as carbon intensive as the Canadian tar sands, one of the most climate-disrupting fuels on Earth. A recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that the methane leak rate from Los Angeles-area oil and gas operations was 17 percent. Because methane is a powerful greenhouse pollutant, leakage rates of more than 3 percent make these fuels worse for the climate than coal.

Noting the threat to A.B. 32, California’s landmark climate change law, the letter calls for an immediate moratorium on fracking “…until it is determined by independent scientific studies whether and under which conditions these forms of fossil fuel development can be deployed in a manner that protects public health and safety, the conservation of the state’s natural resources, and helps to achieve the climate goals set out by A.B. 32.”

“The destructive climate impacts of fracking California for billions of barrels of dirty oil should be more than enough reason for Gov. Brown to halt fracking,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity, who signed the letter.

At least 1,200 California oil and gas wells have been fracked in the past three years without scientific review, and oil companies are already targeting the Monterey Shale. Senate Bill 4, recently signed into law by Gov. Brown, would allow fracking to continue without sufficient safeguards for California’s air, water, and climate.  

In contrast to California’s policy of green-lighting fracking, the federal Bureau of Land Management has not held any oil and gas lease sales on California public lands since launching an independent scientific study of fracking statewide. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put a moratorium on fracking while the risks are evaluated.

Fracking uses huge volumes of water mixed with sand and dangerous chemicals to blast open rock formations and release oil and gas. Drilling and fracking have been tied to air pollution and water contamination across America, and studies tie underground disposal of fracking wastewater to increased earthquake risk. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Californians want a moratorium on the practice.

“Gov. Brown is playing a dangerous game by green lighting fracking before any scientific review,” Wolf said. “To have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we must leave most fossil fuels buried safely in the earth. The governor should start by putting a moratorium on using fracking to extract these dirty fossil fuels.”

A copy of the letter is available here.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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