Not science or law, just politics

May 29, 2013 

An Arizona-based activist group called the Center for Biological Diversity is lobbying California lawmakers to halt the use of hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas in California while its “threats to our air, water, climate and health are studied.” The CBD has made the same demand in lawsuits against the state of California and the federal government.

The group claims that hydraulic fracturing needs additional scientific study and legal review, but don’t be fooled. Science and the law mean nothing to the CBD compared with raw politics. Just ask Kierán Suckling, the group’s executive director.

“The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law,” Suckling said in a 2009 interview with the High Country News. “It’s campaigning instinct.”

In the same interview, Suckling even bragged about his staff’s lack of scientific qualifications.

“It was a key to our success,” Suckling said. “I’m more interested in hiring philosophers, linguists and poets.”

And lawyers. The CBD’s attorneys have filed hundreds of lawsuits against state and federal agencies. But the barrage of litigation isn’t about enforcing the law. According to Suckling, it’s about taking “a terrible toll on agency morale” until environmental regulators “feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed” and “become much more willing to play by our rules.”

“Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning,” he said.

Psychological warfare? It’s shocking that a group this extreme is the driving force behind the campaign to halt hydraulic fracturing in California. Whether they realize it or not — and I believe they don’t — state lawmakers and other public officials who entertain the demands of the CBD are dealing with a group that openly mocks environmental science, environmental law and environmental regulators in pursuit of its fringe beliefs.

This is precisely the kind of ideological fervor Gov. Jerry Brown has warned against.

“We’re not jumping on any ideological bandwagons,” Brown said in March when asked about proposed state regulations that would allow hydraulic fracturing to continue with tougher oversight and disclosure requirements.

Brown said his approach to the issue is “based on science, based on common sense, and based on a deliberative process that listens to people but also wants to take advantage of the great opportunities we have in this state.”

Brown’s policy is supported by scientists, engineers, state regulators and senior officials in the Obama administration, who have concluded many times that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology for developing oil and gas.

For example, a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council declared hydraulic fracturing is “safe and effective,” and new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently noted, “Fracking has been done safely for decades.” Jewell’s predecessor, Ken Salazar, has even said that claims to the contrary are “hysteria.”

We’ve had enough hysteria in California thanks to the poets, linguists and lawyers at the CBD. Let’s deal with the facts instead.

Dave Quast is California director of Energy in Depth, a project affiliated with the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the California Independent Petroleum Association.

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