When an East Coast anti-fracking advocate last week excitedly urged a roomful of activists to mark their calendars for the July 8 showing of "Gasland, Part II" on HBO, California's RL Miller was unimpressed.
Miller, an east Ventura County resident who is chair of the state Democratic Party's Environmental Caucus, is no fan of fracking. In fact, she helped spearhead the movement that led to the party approving a resolution calling for a ban on fracking in California.
Miller is somewhat frustrated that the environmental concerns about fracking that spawned a moratorium in New York have not effectively spread westward. Part of the reason, she told me at last week's Netroots Nation convention in San Jose, is that East Coast activists don't understand California.
"National organizations are trying to run the same playbook in California -- show 'Gasland' and get people excited," she said. "It's not playing in California because we're different."
Part of the reason that California is different is that the most powerful symbol used by fracking opponents to illustrate its environmental risks -- Pennsylvania tap water bursting into flames -- doesn't resonate all that well here.
As the oil industry in California is poised to escalate its use of hydraulic fracturing and other production-stimulation techniques, it will be going after oil, not natural gas. To be sure, the fracturing of rock to stimulate oil flow will also stimulate the release of methane, but the fact that natural gas will not be the target of oil-drilling activity here somehow makes the image of faraway flaming tap water seem less relevant.
There is also the fact that oil drilling seems a lot less threatening in California, where folks have been drilling for oil since before the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The state's first steam-powered oil rig near Sulphur Mountain in Upper Ojai in 1866 preceded by three years the driving of the golden spike.
Those in the oil industry note that variations of hydraulic fracturing have taken place in California for decades. They ask, where's the evidence of harm?
It's a somewhat disingenuous question because no one knew when or where fracking took place, so it is impossible to document any actual environmental damage. Still, there is no smoking gun -- or flaming tap water -- to trigger widespread alarm in California.
There is evidence to suggest that Californians are not so different from New Yorkers in their apprehension over fracking. In fact, a USC poll of Californians last month and a Siena College poll of New Yorkers this month revealed nearly identical public sentiment: 45 percent opposition here, 44 percent opposition in New York, and 37 percent support in both states.
"In New York, we are winning," Mark Schlosberg of Food and Water Watch told the crowd in San Jose last week. He said activists there have made it clear to lawmakers that there are political consequences to supporting fracking and that they've also dogged Gov. Mario Cuomo to keep up the pressure to maintain the moratorium.
"In California, fracking is virtually unregulated," he said. "Gov. Jerry Brown could really make a big difference."
Except there's this: When asked publicly last month about his thoughts on fracking, Brown's response was that while there are issues to examine, it "could be a fabulous economic opportunity."
And that circles back to Miller's frustration with trying to generate some traction for the anti-fracking movement in California. The governor is not on board, and three bills that sought to impose a moratorium were shot down in the Legislature last month.
What's left is a regulatory bill being moved forward by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.
Even if it succeeds, that would not satisfy the activists.
"Our strategy is not to see that fracking is safely regulated. We don't think it can be safely regulated," Schlosberg said. "We're not going to get what we want by having a seat at the table. We're going to get what we want by organizing."
Miller is left wondering how to respond to the legislative efforts of the state senator she helped to elect.
"On the one hand, we do not want to offend Sen. Pavley, who we respect," she said. "But many people think her bill is inadequate."
The bill would make the process much more transparent by requiring well operators to disclose when, where and how fracking and other production-stimulation practices will take place and also require ongoing monitoring of their effects.
Unless the anti-fracking movement in California somehow catches fire like methane-laced tap water, that may be the best West Coast activists can hope for. With or without "Gasland, Part II."