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Press release

California could reduce global emissions by limiting oil production

Oil derricks pump oil in a field in Bakersfield, California

Oil derricks pump oil in a field in Bakersfield, California. Photo: AlizadaStudios / Getty Images.

Published on 27 February 2018
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Emily Yehle

California has numerous options to limit oil production and send a timely and important signal on climate, according to a new analysis from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The analysis adds to an ongoing debate over fossil fuel supply. In November, Gov. Jerry Brown faced pressure to curtail fossil fuel production, with climate activists staging protests at global climate talks. A month later, the California Air Resources Board committed to studying “supply-side” opportunities to reduce GHG emissions.

This new research from SEI shows that limiting oil supply would be a valuable complement to the state’s efforts to reduce oil use, helping to reduce global emissions while yielding benefits for local communities.

“There are no doubt political headwinds against such policies. But our analysis shows that there are several benefits to phasing down California oil production – and several approaches for doing so within reach,” said Peter Erickson, a Senior Scientist at SEI who co-authored the report.

SEI researchers examined how California could limit oil production by taking into account cost, equity and existing emission-reduction policies. The study outlines six possible policies, from the end of new oil well permits to limiting production in areas with disproportionate pollution burdens.

Researchers found that such policies are similar in cost to California’s other emission reduction measures.

The study also found that phasing down oil production would:

  • Reduce global CO2 emissions by an amount equivalent to many of the sector-specific strategies in the state’s new scoping plan, making the effect significant.
  • Lead to a gradual decline in California oil production by as much as 10% per year, if the state stopped issuing new oil well permits.
  • Help meet California’s existing requirement that state programs limit emissions “leakage” from its emissions reducing policies.
  • Ease disproportionate pollution burdens on disadvantaged communities located near active oil wells.
  • Demonstrate leadership to other nations and sub-national governments coming to the September 2018 climate summit in San Francisco.  At least three nations – France, Costa Rica, and Belize – have already announced bans on future exploration and licensing for oil production, thereby helping to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.

Limiting oil production in California would lead to modest increases in production elsewhere. However, the study found that the net effect would be a decrease in global emissions because global oil consumption would decline and because California’s oil production emits more greenhouse gases than most other global sources.

“California already has put in place climate policies that are among the world’s most ambitious,” said Michael Lazarus, the U.S. Center Director for SEI and a co-author of the study. “This study shows how California could extend its leadership to managing the globally-required decline in fossil fuel production in a just, equitable, and efficient manner.”

For interviews and further information, please contact:

Peter Erickson

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Michael Lazarus
Michael Lazarus

Senior Scientist


Topics and subtopics
Air : Pollution
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