Fred Holmes watched with satisfaction as pumps pulled oil from deep beneath his California farm, tapping a supply he thought could last a century.
But he knows the state’s ambitious environmental policies will end the practice sooner than that.
Oil extraction “may continue for another 100 years,” he told AFP. But no.
“Twelve to 14 years” for his company at the rate things are changing, he said.
California produces 311,000 barrels of crude oil per day, about 2.4 percent of all US production, making it the seventh largest producer state in the union.
But it is also at the forefront of environmentalism in the United States, and is determined to reduce its dependence.
In September, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California had joined other states in taking legal action against oil companies, saying they knew decades ago their product was harming the planet, but the truth is hidden.
For the people of Taft, a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, the move was between a stunt and an insult to a city whose historic prosperity was built on black gold.
“The governor does something like this almost every day,” Holmes said. “It’s like a circus.”
By 2045 the state – whose economy is larger than all but four countries – plans to become carbon neutral, and end drilling for fossil fuels.
Currently, drilling permits are difficult to obtain.
“Our town is really on board and it’s almost a ghost town,” Holmes said.
Thousands of wells lie in the desert around Taft, whose proud oil museum is guarded by a wooden drilling rig.
It’s a similar story in largely rural Kern County, which produces 70 percent of California’s oil.
Arguments about the damage fossil fuels have done to the environment — the changes in weather patterns that leave the state at the mercy of extreme climate change — are easy.
“I’m not worried about climate change. You know, we go with the flow,” 75-year-old Mickey Stoner told AFP.
“This town will die if we don’t have oil,” he said.
Taft is the site of the fifth annual “Oildorado” — a 10-day celebration of the town and its drilling heritage that will be held again in October 2025.
The festival celebrates what makes Taft possible, and, according to Mayor David Noerr, the industry that keeps it going.
“Oil is the lifeblood of this town, and Kern County for that matter,” the one-time roustabout said.
The sector “pays huge amounts of taxes to counties and cities, it funds schools, it funds law enforcement and funds programs for veterans and youth athletes, you name it.” .”
Like New Mexico, which offers free university and college tuition to residents, funded by oil revenues, and Wyoming, which generates a significant portion of its budget from natural resource extraction, Kern County describes one of the challenges posed by the energy transition in the United States as the country tries to wean itself off fossil fuels.
Cutting California’s oil production by 90 percent by 2045 would cost Kern up to $27 million a year in property taxes and eliminate thousands of jobs, according to a new study from the University of California Santa Barbara.
– Difficult transition –
Besides the gaping budget holes that affect everyone in a jurisdiction, there are also individual costs.
What does an oil worker do when he is not allowed to drill for oil?
“Unless we have programs for workers to move to other sectors with equivalent pay and equivalent skill sets, it will be a difficult type of transition,” said Ranjit Deshmukh, one of the researchers. who contributed to the study at UCSB.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly touted the “good paying” jobs that green energy will bring.
But what worries oilmen like Noerr is that the efficiencies such technologies inherently bring mean fewer people are needed to keep them running.
Once a solar panel field is installed, it requires very little maintenance — unlike the machinery that pumps oil to the surface.
“Those green jobs provide economic benefits to the community without interruption, as surely as the energy they produce always does,” he said.
To Holmes, it seems a shame that oil remains in the ground while California continues to demand it.
Why, he wanted to know, would the state import oil instead of using its own supply?
“The only thing we transfer is foreign oil,” he said. “If we use any oil, use ours first.”
But even here at Taft, some question the wisdom of continuing to use an energy source that pollutes the air and warms the planet.
“We have to seriously consider one more thing,” said diner waitress Bianca Hiler. “The climate, it’s a big thing, I think.”
The 57-year-old says he has seen the decline of the region over the past few decades, but wants to see a different, brighter future, one less affected by the pollution caused by traditional industries. such as agriculture and oil.
“The air quality is terrible all the time,” he said.
Things cannot continue as they are, for the next generations.
“My grandson has asthma, he can’t breathe anymore.”