Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore had an instructive and inspiring piece on the economic boom occurring in North Dakota as a result of the Peace Garden State’s (yes, that’s their actual nickname) aggressive development of oil resources. More depressing, however (especially for this Golden State resident), was the contrast Moore drew with California:
In 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated 150 million “technically recoverable barrels of oil” from the Bakken Shale [in North Dakota]. In April 2008 that number was up to about four billion barrels, and in 2010 geologists at Continental Resources (the major drilling operation in North Dakota) put it at eight billion. This week, given the discovery of a lower shelf of oil, they announced 24 billion barrels. Current technology allows for the extraction of only about 6% of the oil trapped one to two miles beneath the earth’s surface, so as the technology advances recoverable oil could eventually exceed 500 billion barrels.
Now contrast this bonanza with what’s going on in another energy-rich state: California. While North Dakota’s oil production has tripled since 2007 (to more than 150 million barrels in 2011), the Golden State’s oil production has fallen by a third in the past 20 years, to 201 million barrels last year from 320 million in 1990. The problem isn’t that California is running out of oil: In 2008, when the USGS estimated four billion barrels of recoverable oil from the Bakken, it estimated closer to 15 billion barrels in California’s vast Monterey Shale.
As Moore elaborates later (and as I’ve written at length both here and elsewhere), California’s failures are the byproduct of a governing class that regards traditional (read: viable) energy sources with suspicion at best and contempt at worst, prohibiting many efforts at energy exploration, setting renewable energy mandates, and enacting a statewide version of cap and trade.
One statistical contrast tells the whole story. The resources in California’s Monterey Shale are nearly four times as great as those in North Dakota’s Bakken. Meanwhile, California’s 10.9 percent unemployment rate is more than three times as high as North Dakota’s 3.3 percent rate. This is not fate. This is the result of choices made by California’s policymakers. The state’s voters should judge them accordingly.