Newsom supports tougher rules on new oil drilling near residential areas in California



A pump jack in a residential area of ​​Long Beach. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Governor Gavin Newsom has recognized the health dangers of fossil fuel development in California as state regulators take a first step towards preventing the development of new oil and gas wells near schools, hospitals and houses.

The proposal, released Thursday by the Geologic Energy Management Division of the Department of Conservation, is still in draft form – and could still change as it weaves its way through a regulatory process that includes extensive public comment.

“It’s a question of morality. The issue that really unites us here today revolves around the issue of justice, environmental justice, economic justice – they go hand in hand, ”said Newsom in Wilmington, a community surrounded by oil refineries. “It’s about public health. It’s a matter of security. It is a question of dignity. It is about the ability to live life out loud.

The governor, who in April ordered the phase-out of the new oil fracking, has been criticized by conservationists for failing to do more to reduce pollution and the disproportionately heavy production of fossil fuels on low-income communities and communities of color. California lawmakers and officials are expected to attend a crucial international climate change conference early next month.

Newsom called on California oil and gas regulators to strengthen public protections near oil and gas facilities in 2019. The controversial proposal has already received more than 40,000 individual public comments, according to state officials. And this comes after a long review by a panel of public health experts.

Still, there is likely to be significant opposition from the politically powerful oil and gas industry and the state building trades lobby, which have successfully blocked legislative attempts to establish legislation. health and safety buffer zones around oil and gas facilities.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president and CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association, called it a “militant attack on the way of life, the economy and the people of California” and said it “could lead to a increasing costs and reducing the reliability of our energy supply. His decision wasn’t based on what’s best for Californians or science.

Environmental justice advocates, however, said it was “a big step in the right direction” that nevertheless does not go far enough to curb an industry that has historically seen limited application.

“This draft rule misses the opportunity to ban new permits for existing wells, a key component for our communities,” Juan Flores, community organizer for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the administration to close this loophole and act quickly to finally protect our communities.”

The proposed rule proposes a public health retreat of 3,200 feet around the new oil and gas development, separating new wells from sensitive sites such as homes, hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Nearly 2 million Californians live within 3,200 feet of an existing oil and gas facility, according to Jared Blumenfeld, California Secretary of Environmental Protection.

Existing oil and gas well operators would be required to install emission detection and vapor capture systems at wellheads and establish near pollutant monitoring. The rule would ban diesel engines from the site, and would require reducing other nuisances such as dust and nighttime lighting.

Six years ago, California scientists published a comprehensive review of hydraulic fracturing and other practices in California, warning that “many constituents used and emitted by oil and gas development can be harmful to health and cause run disproportionate risks to sensitive populations, in particular children and pregnant women. , the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.

The report recommended that California “develop policies such as science-based surface recalls to limit exposures.”

“We are working to ensure that the harmful emissions of concern are eliminated by installing the strongest, and I can unequivocally say, the strongest set of engineering controls and mitigation measures in the country,” said Wade Crowfoot , California Secretary of Natural Resources. .

California, which cultivates an image of aggressive action to limit climate change, is the seventh largest producer of crude oil in the country.

New oil and gas developments are on the decline in California, state officials said. “The number of permits to abandon exceeds the number of permits for new wells,” Crowfoot said.

But while new developments have stagnated, companies continue to rework existing wells. Southern California has some of the largest urban oil fields in the country, in some cases dating back to the 19th century. Cleverly camouflaged pump jacks are located near the Beverly Hills High School campus, as well as in residential areas of Long Beach and along the roads and fields of Kern County.

A 15-member public health panel, co-chaired by Rachel Morello-Frosch, professor of environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, identified a number of health threats related to oil development and some gas. These include asthma and adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, which can put newborns at increased risk of death or long-term developmental problems.

Scientists evaluated a number of potential control strategies and determined that eliminating or reducing new wells and properly closing existing ones would eliminate “the source of almost all environmental stressors … protect local populations and regional ”.

As for the downsides of doing so, the researchers wrote only one word: “None”.

The research team was more skeptical of pollution controls for existing wells, which they said “tend to focus disproportionately on air pollutant emissions” and “(lack) the important safety factor. provided by recoil when technical checks fail “.

MK Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance who was behind failure two-year effort to establish setbacks around sensitive sites such as schools, called it a “historic announcement” but said “we need to make sure we protect all neighborhoods, whether the wells are new or existing.”

CalMatters reporter Julie Cart contributed to this story.

CalMatters is a public service journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.

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