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California Faces Pressure to Scale Back Fossil Fuel Production

California is coming under increasing pressure to bolster its climate hawk credentials by taking a supply-side approach to emission reductions, scaling back fossil activity within its borders that makes it the third-biggest oil producer of any U.S. state.

In a new report, the Stockholm Environment Institute says the state could cut carbon dioxide emissions by eight to 24 million tons per year by eliminating half of its oil and gas production, a move that would run alongside measures like auto efficiency standards and carbon cap-and-trade regulations that California has more readily championed.

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The authors argue that attacking fossil fuel production at the wellhead is necessary if California—often called the world’s sixth-largest economy—is to help meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement,” InsideClimate News reports. Studies have found that avoiding the worst risks of climate change means keeping most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves—including a third of the oil—in the ground.

SEI Senior Scientist and report co-author Peter Erickson acknowledged that “you could in theory do that by reducing demand for fossil fuels.” The problem is that ” it’s not happening fast enough, so that creates a need to limit the supply of fossil fuels.”

Using economic models to calculate the impact on global oil prices, consumption, and production if California scaled back its output, the researchers concluded that other jurisdictions would take up some of the slack. But “global oil use would still drop by 0.2 to 0.6 barrels for every barrel that California does not produce,” InsideClimate writes.

While the state’s oil production has already begun to decline, the report says California could eliminate another 80 million barrels per year by 2030, just by not issuing any new drilling permits.

ICN details some of the complexities and uncertainties in a plan to curtail production, but notes that the state will need new measures of some sort to hit its climate milestones. “While California is on track to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, the state will need to adopt more stringent measures to achieve its targets beyond that date,” notes correspondent Nicholas Kusnetz. “Cuts from its transportation sector, in particular, have stalled.”

Erikson acknowledged that getting state decision-makers onboard will be a long shot. “It’s thorny,” he told Kusnetz. “There’s lots of fault lines that we’re trying to steer clear of, but there could be a moment to think about oil supply in California.”