It might surprise you that not everything in Dear Governor Brown – a recent “documentary” produced by activist actor Mark Ruffalo — is either a blatant falsehood or intentionally misleading: it is true that one of the 50 states is called “California” and it is also true that its Governor is Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr.
Unfortunately, all of the other claims in the movie are falsehoods that have been repeatedly debunked by scientists.
While Ruffalo’s involvement in a a film of this kind might add some “Hollywood-heft to the production values,” Hollywood is not where someone interested in science should turn. Dear Governor Brown is red meat for subscribers to the anti-fracking faith, but it makes no attempt to engage with the extensive body of science that refutes its premise or to provide a balanced look at the costs and benefits of energy development.
Don’t let the white coat fool you, Source: Screenrant.com
Mr. Ruffalo is a fixture of Hollywood environmental activism, and while it may be admirable that he has used his resources and influence to raise awareness about the challenge of climate change and the increasing importance of renewable energy, any admiration comes with a giant caveat that you could drive a peer-reviewed scientific study through.
The caveat is that Mr. Ruffalo, in his ideological zeal, he has left intellectual integrity and coherence in his wake. He has done this in two ways: first, by ignoring the huge corpus of scientific facts that contradict his preordained conclusions, particularly on the subject of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and, second, by clinging to the few discredited scientists and academics who are willing offer succor to these pre-ordained but fanciful conclusions (perhaps for the opportunity to spend time with celebrities?) rather than listening to the vast majority of independent scientists, environmental regulators and academics who consistently demonstrate that these conclusions are bunk.
Which leads us to Dear Governor Brown and its companion piece, Dear President Obama which “premiered” last week at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
Dear President Obama digs even deeper into the earliest talking points of anti-fracking activism by trotting out as experts not only Anthony Ingraffea (see above), but disgraced filmmaker Josh Fox of the Gasland films (remember the flaming faucet?) and anti-fracking activist and poet, masquerading as an objective scientist, Sandra Steingraber, whose most recent contribution to the dialogue was to disparage the women working in the energy industry, calling them “hotel maids and prostitutes.” We have written about the flaws in Dear President Obama here.
“U.S production of oil and natural gas is important. I would rather us, with all the safeguards and standards that we have, be producing our oil and gas rather than importing it, which is bad for our people, but also potentially purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do.” – President Obama, getting it, May 14, 2015
Back to the Golden State, where, in Dear Governor Brown, Ruffalo claims (with a straight face, we assume) that the nation’s most environmentally progressive Governor is “almost worse” than a climate change denier.
Before we look at the content of the film, it is important to note that it features activists from the most fringe anti-energy groups in the country, and not scientists.
We can glean everything we need to know about the scientific rigor and objectivity of Dear Governor Brown from the fact that the first sources of in the film come from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and an organizer from Food and Water Watch (FWW).
Here, from that profile, is a taste of what Mark Ruffalo’s “experts” are all about:
“‘We will have to inflict severe economic pain,’ [CBD co-founder] Robin Silver told me. ‘We’d like to see belly-high grass over millions of acres,” [CBD co-founder] Peter Gavin added. ‘We’d like to close thousands of miles of roads, and see a huge amount of retooling of local economies.’” (Emphases added)
CBD co-founders Kieran Suckling and Peter Gavin. Source: Center for Biological Diversity
Like CBD, FWW has a long history of promoting anti-industry policies that would actually exacerbate climate change but which feed its broader ambition: to do away with the oil and gas industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity it is responsible for.
Like CBD, FWW has a history of spreading misinformation about the realities of oil and gas development in California and elsewhere around the country. In addition to scaremongering using false information, the group has a history of sketchy practices. The group’s ideology is so immune to science that it shuns good news for the environment. Reacting to EPA’s recent landmark 1,000 page study which found no widespread or systemic impacts on drinking water caused by fracking, FWW founder Wenonah Hauter wrote: “This study is fodder to continue our ongoing fight to ban fracking everywhere.”
Wenonah Hauter, founder and executive director of FWW, a group that advocates policies that would increase greenhouse gas emissions. Source: Food and Water Watch
Let’s go to the movies
A systematic examination of the claims made in Dear Governor Brown make it clear that this is not a “documentary,” as the dictionary defines such a work one that “purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.”
It is, however, a fascinating snapshot of the anti-fracking movement: impervious to scientific fact and dismissive of good environmental outcomes.
Let’s explore the movie’s claims one by one:
KASSIE SIEGEL, SENIOR ATTORNEY, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: “California is known for a healthy lifestyle, healthy environment, organic agriculture, agritourism, being on the cutting edge. And fracking in oil and gas threatens everything we hold dear.”
FACT: It is absolutely true that we Californians enjoy living healthy lifestyles and value our natural environment. It is also true that these values have lived side-by-side with responsible oil and gas development for more than 100 years without the adverse impacts imagined by Ms. Siegel and her comrades. CBD’s Siegel has had accurate information about fracking in California for years, not least because EID has provided it directly in public forums. Given CBD’s ultimate aim, it is no surprise that she continues to ignore them in favor of stoking fear and distrust.
As we have pointed out previously, not only does fracking – a routine one-to-two day process that happens far underground and that has been used in California for half a century – not “threaten everything we hold dear” but it is ensuring hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs, and reducing the carbon footprint of importing more oil by ship or rail. Outside of California, of course, IPCC, IEA, the Obama Administration and countless scientists have pointed out that fracking – particularly fracking for natural gas – has led the United States to be a leader in greenhouse gas emission reductions. This is something Siegel would celebrate if her goal were truly to tackle climate change.
CBD’s Kassie Siegel. Source: Climateone.org
TITLE CARD: “The oil and gas industry in California goes back over a century. Today 5 million Californians live within a mile of at least one oil rig. Today’s boom in oil and gas production in California is due to the expansion of unconventional drilling, which uses acidization, steam flooding or hydraulic fracturing to obtain previous out-of-reach fossil fuels.”
FACTS: There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding (at best) or dissembling (at worst) packed into these two sentences. If Mr. Ruffalo and his friends are going to agitate against the oil industry they should at least take the time to understand how it works.
While it is true that our state’s oil and gas industry can proudly trace its roots to the early 20th century, it is not true that five million Californians live within a mile of at least one oil rig. In fact, as of this writing, there are only four active rotary drilling rigs operating in the entire State of California.
Giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt (the film was written and directed by Jon Bowermaster), we will assume they don’t understand that “rig,” like “fracking,” is a word with a specific meaning. Perhaps she is referring to producing wells featuring pump-jacks (“nodding donkeys”), the kind one sees dotting the landscapes of Kern and Los Angeles Counties – or even inside the tony Beverly Center mall in Beverly Hills.
Not a rig. Source: motherjones.com
An oil well between Macy’s and Bloomingdales at the Beverly Center Mall, Beverly Hills, CA. Source: old.seattletimes.com
Drilling in California most often happens far from residential areas but when it does happen in urban areas, as it does in the Los Angeles basin, it occurs under the strictest environmental regulations in the country, if not the world. The attempt to elide this fact is one of the many places where the filmmakers chose alarmism over honestly.
SIEGEL: “California is a water-starved state in the midst of the worst drought in recorded history. And in the middle of this drought the oil industry is using large amounts of freshwater for fracking and drilling and even worst contaminating huge amounts of our protected drinking water. These are shocking practices.”
FACT: Again, Ms. Siegel has to know that what she is saying is untrue. (“Shocking” is an odd work for a process that has happened more than 1.2 million times in this country in for the past 60 years.) She was in the audience when then-director of the California Department of Conservation corrected her during a panel with EID at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, agreeing with EID that the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing in California is negligible.
As state regulators report, and as we have informed activists repeatedly, fracking in California is not water-intensive. Fracking uses approximately 214 acre-feet of water per year. This is equivalent to the water used by just one of California’s many gold courses. For comparison, lawn watering uses 8.7 million acre feet and agriculture uses 34 million acre-feet. Environmental journalist Chris Clarke ran the numbers and found:
“The water used for fracking in 2014 is just .00069 percent of California’s total water consumption. Or put another way: If all the water used by California society in 2014 was represented by a bank account totaling $10,000, the amount we spent on fracking last year was just under seven cents. Puts those 214 acre-feet in perspective, no?
Meanwhile, in what the state considers a normal water year — like the precipitous 2010 — Californians benefit from the use of 41.1 million acre- feet. About 8 million acre-feet of that was used in urban settings, including households, factories, and commercial settings. The rest, more than 33 million acre-feet was used to irrigate crops. Fracking, with its 214 acre-feet, doesn’t even make the graph.
By comparison, the DWR estimates that the typical California household loses about 30.7 gallons per day to leaky pipes and fixtures, which if you multiply by California’s 12.5 million households (as of the 2010 Census) comes out to more than 431,000 acre-feet completely wasted each year, and that’s wastage we could end right now.” [Emphasis added]
Oregon State University hydrologist Michael Campana also ran the numbers and found that anti-fracking claims about water use set off the alarms on his “crap detector”:
“Fracking accounts for 0.00062% (or 0.0000062) of the state’s annual freshwater withdrawals. A lot of water? Not in my book. In fact, I thought there was an error — that the figure should have been 70M gallons per day.” [Emphasis added]
The facts about water use and fracking in California have been freely available for years, and it is shameful that CBD and Mr. Ruffalo simply ignore them. Also shameful is the fact that Ruffalo, through an organization he founded headed by a “chief scientist” who is not a scientist, has actively worked to shut down a 20+-year old program in Kern County where 10 billion gallons of oilfield produced water, when clean enough, is treated and shared with farmers for use in irrigation. This program has been a success and is even more important during the drought. What is “shocking” in all of this is the hypocrisy of attacking a program simply because the oil industry is involved, even when the program is a net water producer. More on this below.
FWW’s Adam Scow. Source: foodandwaterwatch.org
ADAM SCOW, CALIFORNIA DIRECTOR, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: “Well I think the governor likes to talk a good game and in some cases he is making good strides and is symbolically a leader, compared to other governors perhaps. Governor Brown seems to be talking a good talk about renewable transitions but is unwilling to take on the oil companies and the fossil fuel companies. All of our community allies that are getting sick and are seeing our water poisoned are just wondering when Governor Brown is going to show real leadership.”
FACTS: Jerry Brown has been “taking on” oil companies for as long as he has been in public life. When he disagrees with industry – as he often does — he is not shy about saying so. The call for “real leadership” is a version of the slogan “Climate Leaders Don’t Frack,” which, as discussed above, is the opposite of the truth. From California to Colorado, from Texas to North Dakota to Pennsylvania (unfortunately for New Yorkers, not New York) – climate leaders, often Democrats, recognize that fracking is a key strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Gov. Jerry Brown, 1974. Source: https://ucisca.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/jerry-brown-at-uci-in-1974/
Gov. Jerry Brown, 2015. Source: latimes.com
Scow goes on to mention people who are sick and “seeing our water poisoned.” The film then focuses on some residents of Los Angeles County who share their stories. Gabriela Garcia wonders why the air smells “fruity.” Metzli Soloranzo complains of nosebleeds and nausea. Neither of those complaints have anything to do with “poisoned” water.
The facts are simple: studies have concluded that oil and gas production have no significant impact on air quality in Los Angeles. Last July, the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) found that oil exploration and production (E&P) activity in Los Angeles accounts for less than one percent of air pollutants and toxic contaminants in the area. According to CCST:
“In the South Coast air [quality management] district [SCAQMD] (including all of Orange County, the non-desert regions of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County), upstream oil and gas sources represent small proportions (<1%) of criteria air pollutant and toxic air contaminant emissions due to large quantities of emissions from other sources in a highly urbanized area.”
When more than 99 percent of air pollutants in the nation’s second largest city come from non-oil and gas-related sources, singling-out the industry for being a notable polluter can only be done to serve an anti-industry narrative and not the truth.
Also, fracking does not threaten local water supplies in Los Angeles. First, the water for most of Los Angeles comes from hundreds of miles away in the Delta of Northern California, the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack, and the Colorado River. Most importantly, however: there is no fracking happening in the City of Los Angeles at the moment and there hasn’t been for many years. The complaints lodged by the participants in the film no doubt have some cause, but it is simply not possible that the cause could be related to hydraulic fracturing. Surely, FWW knows this and it is unseemly that the group would prey on these residents’ fears which only distracts them from figuring out which of the myriad sources of pollution in Los Angeles might be the cause of their distress.
It is strange (not really) that Ruffalo, CBD and FWW did not reference a study that was done the last time a well was hydraulically fractured in Los Angeles, because it was done specifically for the purposes of the study right in the heart of the largest urban oilfield in the country, the Inglewood Oil Field adjacent to Culver City, Baldwin Hills, and Inglewood. This comprehensive 2012 court-mandated study examined the impacts of fracking across categories including air quality, groundwater quality, induced seismicity (earthquakes), methane emissions, community health and a host of others. The study found no adverse impacts.
RICHARD PARKS, PRESIDENT, REDEEMER COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP: “Now [oil E&P company] Freeport is using a process here called acidization and what they’ll do is they’ll bring tanker trucks filled with 20 thousand gallons of toxic acid. This acid contains chemicals such as carcinogens, endocrine disruptors these are chemicals that disrupt reproductive health across generations.”
FACTS: Here, the filmmakers try to scare viewers with the routine well maintenance process of using either hydrochloric (HCL) and hydrofluoric acids (HFL) to help keep wells maintained. These acids are commonly used in a variety of industries and are even used in residential swimming pools. For the Jefferson and Murphy sites, referenced in the film, the acid used is limited to routine maintenance operations including corrosion control, descaling, and lubrication, all critical elements in keeping production wells operating safely. The acid is heavily diluted and constitutes a small percentage of the total fluid used at both facilities. The use of these acids, in addition to everything else involved in the E&P process, is heavily regulated.
DIANE THOMAS, CARSON, CA: “All of those techniques fracking, steam stimulation, acidizing, all of those techniques use chemicals. And they are chemicals that the oil companies aren’t willing to reveal all of those chemical to the public. Why? But yet they’re safe and they won’t affect your drinking water and they won’t affect your environment your air is going to be fine. They make a lot of promises but we know better.”
FACTS: “We know better” is not a scientific argument.
More importantly, the words that were no doubt put unto Ms. Thomas’s mouth are untrue. Oil and gas companies were voluntarily disclosing the chemicals used in well stimulation treatments on FracFocus.org before the passage of SB 4, and SB 4 made this disclosure mandatory. What’s more, the disclosure language passed in California is nearly identical to similar language in Colorado that environmental activist groups lauded.
Information about any chemicals used in any specific well in California can be found at FracFocus.org. You will find that most of these chemicals can be purchased at your local home improvement store and can be found in under your kitchen sink and even in your food. Sorry you got used like this, Ms. Thomas.
TITLE CARD: “Kern County”
As the scene shifts northward to Kern County, we hear from Scott Smith, the former “chief scientist” for Mr. Ruffalo’s water-focused activist group Water Defense. Smith has changed his title to Chief Technology Officer and Investigator since EID first pointed out that he seemingly lacked the credentials to call himself a scientist. Smith is discussing the 20+ year-old Cawelo Water District recycled water irrigation program, which benefits local farmers in one of the most important agricultural regions of the United States.
SCOTT SMITH, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER AND INVESTIGATOR, WATER DEFENSE:
“As I looked into this I realized there was no testing. When they take their split second sample they are assuming that that water is always in equilibrium and all their data represents is what’s in the water for that split second. And in the cumulative testing that I use monitors what’s flowing through the water over time. What we want to do is see how that waters flowing, it’s not a closed loop system so you got all this different discharge all these pipes running from Chevron and Cawelo so you’ve gotta put something in the water that’s going to attract the contamination over time. We did our testing and we tested the whole ten-mile canal system. The results came back and we started seeing solvents, chemicals of concern that were matching up with oil that was coming out of the ground in Kern County.”
FACTS: Of course the water is tested. Otherwise, how would Chevron or the Water District know that the water was clean enough to use in agriculture after it is treated? So Mr. Smith’s contention that “there was no testing” is pure fantasy.
As we have previously demonstrated, Mr. Smith’s methodology has been questioned by regulators, as well as the farmers who have been irrigating crops with this water for decades without negative outcomes while producing the food that we all eat.
The the Los Angeles Times wrote:
“Here in California’s thirsty farm belt, where pumpjacks nod amid neat rows of crops, it’s a proposition that seems to make sense: using treated oil field wastewater to irrigate crops.
Oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of that water each day and sells it to farmers who use it on about 45,000 acres of crops, about 10% of Kern County’s farmland.
State and local officials praise the 2-decade-old program as a national model for coping with the region’s water shortages. As California’s four-year drought lingers and authorities scramble to conserve every drop, agricultural officials have said that more companies are seeking permits to begin similar programs.” [Emphasis added]
“Chevron and the water district say that the water is safe for use on crops, citing the fact that they are complying with testing requirements under the wastewater discharge permit issued by the Central Valley water authority.
David Ansolabehere, general manager of the Cawelo Water District, reviewed Smith’s results. He said the sampling methods gathered too many solids and not enough liquid for testing. Smith uses a sampling method that gathers water and particles over a longer period of time, from deeper levels, than traditional water testing techniques. That method, Ansolabehere said, casts doubt on the test results.
Ansolabehere said Chevron and the water district, in an abundance of caution, would contract with a third party to test for the broader array of chemicals that is now required by the water board.” [Emphasis added]
Mark Smith, a board member of the Cawelo Water District who grows pistachios and citrus using treated water from Chevron, said he had “never heard a word” about contamination from the oil production process and is satisfied that the water testing is adequate. [Emphasis added]
The narrative then moves back into anecdotal territory with brief interviews with a teacher and a vintner from Shafter and Lockwood, respectively. Once again, there is no science, but the filmmakers got plenty of sound bites about the importance of farming (who disagrees?) and fear that “chemicals” will make their way into irrigation water. As it happens, there are no programs of on the Cawelo model in Shafter or Lockwood.
The real point of these vignettes is to simply bash the industry, not to move the narrative forward or to present new facts.
PAULA GETZELMAN, OWNER, TRE GATTI VINEYARDS, LOCKWOOD, CA: “Governor Brown for years was kind of held up as a green Governor, a person who believed in a green future and he still does except when where comes to gas and oil and its like he has blinders on, he can’t see it. The longer he waits the more people’s lives are disrupted, the more gas and oil has an opportunity to wreak some destruction.”
THE FACTS: The oil and gas industry in California is centered on Kern County, with a significant amount of oil produced in Los Angeles County as well. In Kern, most production is in the western part of the county where there are few residents and no potable groundwater. In Los Angeles, production takes place under regulation from nearly 20 federal, state and local agencies and the city and the industry have coexisted for more than a century to mutual benefit.
To any non-scientific charges, even those as simplistic as “corporations are bad,” one can only turn to science for enlightenment and the fact remains that fracking is an extremely well-understood process (given that it has been used routinely since Harry Truman was in the White House) and it has been extensively studied.
It is a good bet that Dear Governor Brown’s filmmakers didn’t provide the participants in the movie with data from the EPA’s recent 1,000 page landmark study on the potential for groundwater contamination, not the results of the Inglewood Oilfield Study mentioned above, nor a 2015 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Study, a 2012 Colorado Department of Public Health Study, a 2011 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Health Report, a 2013 Public Health England Study, a 2013 West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Study, or a host of others conducted in the past few years along. In fact, we are guessing that the filmmakers and their friends at CBD and FWW haven’t grappled with these studies either, because they don’t fit their simplistic “industry is bad” narrative.
The film, at last, concludes:
NEWSREEL (NBC’S Meet the Press): “Well speaking of climate change some environmentalists are not happy with you because of racking you allowed fracking to go on in California, I know you have a study coming out later in the summer where you make a final decision on that but considering how much water by the way os used for fracking isn’t that alone, you water crisis in California, isn’t that alone enough reason to prohibit fracking at least stop it?”
Governor Brown:. “Not at all.”
FACTS: This is an incredible blatant example of cherry-picking dishonesty. The filmmakers chose to cut off the Governor’s answer to this question for dramatic effect. What he actually said, though, is worth listening to, something viewers of Dear Governor Brown don’t get an opportunity to do.
Here is how the Governor answered the question:
“No, not at all. First, fracking in California has been going on for more than 50 years and uses a fraction of the water of fracking on the east coast for gas particularly. This is vertical fracking for the most part. It is different. California imports 70 percent of our petroleum products; our cars drive over 330 billion miles mostly on petroleum. If we reduce our oil drilling on California, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. What we need to do is to move to electric cars, more efficient buildings and more renewable energy and in that respect, California is leading the country and some would say even the world and we’re going to continue moving down that path.”
Climate leaders frack, in California and all over the country. This is why, as noted above, the United States is making record strides in meeting greenhouse emissions reduction targets.
Governor Brown, a passionate advocate for aggressive action on the and an opponent of the oil industry in countless battles over the years when the two parties disagreed about the scope of regulation, simply knows more about fracking in California than a New York-based actor and his friends do. This is why he has said that anti-fracking activists “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about”: they simply refuse to look at the facts.
It is a shame that Mark Ruffalo and his friends in the anti-industry community don’t realize that we make progress – not only on issues related to climate change but in creating an honest and respectful conversation about public policy – not by demonizing an industry (an industry that is doing a lot more to combat climate change than activists shouting into bullhorns), but by accepting scientific facts and then, as needed, incorporating them into our worldviews. After all, we are still entitled to our own opinions, even when agree on the facts.