The Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), with the backing of Governor Gavin Newsom, announced a sweeping new proposed regulation on Thursday that would ban any new oil or gas development from being within 3,200 feet of all schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and homes statewide.
According to the proposal, current oil and gas facility operators within the 3,200 foot buffer would need to install emission detection systems, as well as vapor capture and monitoring tools to drastically reduce the number of pollutants released. Diesel engines would also be banned from on-site use, with dust levels and lighting at night also to be greatly reduced. The restrictions would be in place by 2023 at the earliest, assuming the process goes through the normal California environmental scrutiny and many regulators make changes to the draft to compromise with oil and gas companies.
The Newsom administration back the proposal largely as a way to greatly reduce the health risk of those living near oil and gas facilities, as well as having a social justice angle as well as most people who currently live within the 3,200 foot radius of current gas and oil wells tend to be either Latino or Black. The administration also noted that 15 health experts looked over the proposal and came to the conclusion that 3,200 feet, or roughly half-a-mile, would be optimal as a buffer zone.
“Our reliance on fossil fuels has resulted in more kids getting asthma, more children born with birth defects, and more communities exposed to toxic, dangerous chemicals. California is taking a significant step to protect the more than two million residents who live within a half-mile of oil drilling sites, many in low income and communities of color,” said Governor Newsom in a statement on Thursday. “This is about morality. The issue that really unites us here today is around the issue of justice, environmental justice, economic justice — they go hand in hand. It’s about public health. It’s about safety. It’s about dignity. It’s about the ability to live your life out loud.”
CA is taking steps to move beyond oil production because it puts the health of kids & Californians of all ages at risk.
We're proposing to stop the drilling of any new oil wells within 3,200 feet of places like homes & schools & moving to phase out oil production by 2045. pic.twitter.com/1h0e1GxSVO
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) October 21, 2021
Others in the Newsom administration added to his statement on Thursday.
“Extracting oil is a dirty business and it’s had a real impact on Californians,” said California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “If any of us had to live next to a pump jack or oil facility, we’d be worried every day about our family’s health. The overriding focus of the proposed regulation is to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) Secretary Wade Crowfoot also added that, due to property rights, mineral rights, and existing permits, the state could shut down all wells once the buffer zone became law for new wells. They would, however, face more regulations to reduce emissions.
“I’m confident in saying this is the strongest set of engineering controls and protective mitigation measures anywhere in the country, if not the world,” Crowfoot said. “We do anticipate that some producers will choose to safely and permanently seal their well and stop producing as a result of this cost.”
Backlash against proposal
The proposed action would only impact the latest law or order given by Newsom to greatly expand environmental regulations in California. In September of 2020, Newsom signed an Executive Order banning new sales of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. This was added to earlier this month with the Governor signing a bill that would enact a sales ban on gas-powered small motor machines such as lawnmowers and chainsaws by 2024. Another Executive Order signed in April by Newsom will also ban fracking in the state by 2024 and end oil extraction by 2045.
Backlash against the new order has already been severe, as the oil industry remains one of the largest in the state and is still the seventh-largest crude oil producing state in the country. One-third of all gasoline in California comes directly from oil extracted and refined in the state. Warnings of everything from losing thousands of jobs to higher prices for gas and other fuels due to a still-high need for them in the state and nationwide have been given by industry professionals and experts for years.
“We do need to combat climate change and not harm citizens, but Newsom is trying to make drastic changes overnight,” noted Angeline Duncan, an arbiter who often acts an an intermediary between fossil fuel companies and local citizens groups in several states, to the Globe on Thursday. “Each side has wants and needs, and it’s often hard to see economic fallout of well closures than it is to see the health effects in an area. Agreements that work best leave everyone mad, but they usually mean more and more gradual regulations and a shift to other energy and fuel sources with those wanting them reduced or gone needing to diversify their economy and introduce measures to alleviate any economic sting when they leave.
“A lot of small towns rely on oil or gas companies for jobs, and right now with this the Governor is not giving any solutions on what they can do if no new wells are to open up or what the town will do if the big company leaves. They probably already know the answer.
The oil and gas industry also charged the Newsom administration of not meeting the standard needed to go forward fairly.
“The proposed rule’s true setbacks will be imposed upon California’s families, workers and businesses that need affordable, reliable energy every day,” said Western States Petroleum Association President and CEO Catherine Reheis-Boyd on Thursday. “This was not a scientific process, as facts do not support the recommendation, nor were dissenting voices or industry experts even allowed to provide input to the panel.”
“This is an activist assault on California’s way of life, economy and people. It could lead to increased costs and reduce the reliability of our energy supply. His decision was not based on what is best for Californians or science.”
Formal challenges over the draft are expected to begin later this year and go well into 2022.
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