With the exception of Gov. Jerry Brown, there may be no bigger fan of California's new law regulating fracking than the outspoken CEO of a Texas oil company who calls the bill Brown signed on Friday “the toughest in the states.” Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas, is a cheerleader for the oil industry who told Opportunist magazine earlier this year that fracking is “100 percent safe” and preaches the industry gospel in paid radio spots that air each day in Dallas and Los Angeles.
He is just the sort of fellow one might expect to ascribe to the industry line voiced by the Western States Petroleum Association, whose president said the bill Brown signed “could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California.” In fact, Faulkner told me, he believes pretty much the opposite. The regulations are tough, he said, but not unreasonable — and without them, the industry would risk becoming hogtied by public apprehension about fracking.
“As an industry, we have to recognize that, whether based on facts, fear or misunderstanding, there is a huge backlash against our industry,” he said. “We cannot continue to ignore that. The common person is going to say, 'I have concerns.' If we can lessen that, fantastic.” Without regulation strong enough to give most Californians assurance that fracking is being adequately monitored, Faulkner believes the industry would be setting itself up for a repeat of what happened in Europe, where bans were enacted and “the industry was left holding the bag” on stranded investments.
In fact, even with the new law in place, the industry may not be out of the woods in California. The Sierra Club opposed the bill in the Legislature. Earlier this month, the Natural Resources Defense Council asked Brown to use his executive authority to impose a moratorium. Other environmental groups are even more adamant in their quest for a ban. California may be only one wealthy activist away from launching an initiative asking voters to enact a ban.