California proposes buffer between neighborhoods and oil drilling

Sacramento, Calif.

California’s oil regulator proposed Thursday that the state prohibit new oil drilling within three ,200 foot of homes and schools in order to preserve public health. This would create the largest buffer zone in the country between oil wells, communities, and oil companies.

This is the latest initiative by Democratic Governor. Gavin Newsom’s administration is attempting to end oil production in California. This aligns him with environmental activists who are fighting to reduce the impact of climate change as well as the powerful oil industry in California’s seventh largest oil producer state.

Studies have shown that living close to a drilling area can increase the risk of many health problems. Over 2,000,000 Californians are located within 3 ,200 miles of oil drilling sites. This includes low-income residents as well as people of color living in Los Angeles County, and the Central Valley. Although the proposal does not prohibit wells operating within these areas, it would introduce new pollution control measures.

” “This proposal is about public well-being, public safety and clean water. This is our children and grandkids, and it is also about the future,” Newsom stated in Wilmington, Los Angeles, which has one of the highest concentrations of wells. We can make a better, greener, safer, and more resilient world. This is what we are trying to do. .”

The rules, which represent the intent of the administration, were drafted and could be modified. They won’t go into effect until at least 2023..

This would mark the first time that California has established statewide guidelines about how close drilling is allowed to schools and homes. Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas, all oil-producing states, have their own rules regarding how close wells may be to properties. Colorado’s 2,000-foot setback on new drilling, adopted last year, is the nation’s strictest rule right now.

California’s plan, if adopted, would also go further than the 2,500 foot buffer environmental groups sought. The ruling was praised by a coalition of environmental justice organizations that support Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities living in highly polluted regions. However, they urged Mr. Newsom not to aggressively eliminate existing neighborhood drilling.

“Oil companies and gas corporations have been treating our community as sacrifice zones over a century,” Juan Flores, a community organizer at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, stated in a statement. “Frontline community members have spoken in a clear voice, demanding an end to neighborhood drilling.”

The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil and gas interest group, blasted the proposed rules as an “activist assault on California’s way of life, economy and people” in a statement from President Catherine Reheis-Boyd.

Ms. Reheis-Boyd stated that the industry does not oppose setbacks in local areas but doesn’t support a state rule. She said the rules would lead to less reliable energy and higher prices in an industry that employs about 150,000 people.

Robbie Hunter, an influential labor union and member of the State Building and Construction Trades Council said that the rules would make California more dependent on oil and increase prices. The governor directed the state regulators to develop a plan for ending oil and gas production by 2045, and to curb consumer demand by prohibiting new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035..

He was joined by other state legislators who long advocated for setbacks. Also, doctors spoke out about the risks of oil pollution to people living nearby, especially pregnant mothers and their children.

” I am fed up with my neighborhood being called ‘asthma Alley’,” said Lena Gonzalez (a Democrat representing southeast Los Angeles County).

The rules were created by CalGEM (California Geologic Energy Management Division), which oversees California’s oil industry regulation and issue drilling permits. When Mr. Newsom took office in 2019,, he directed the state to put emphasis on safety and health. He also instructed CalGEM to look at settingbacks for oil drilling. This was to safeguard community health. The state received more than 40,000 public comments on the draft rules and convened a 15-member panel of public health experts to research the effects of neighborhood oil drilling on health and safety.

CalGEM is often criticized for being too close to the oil industry that it regulates. Wade Crowfoot (secretary of the state natural resource agency) acknowledged that the regulator must do more to ensure compliance by oil companies with state laws.

Wells located within three ,200 foot of community sites make up about one third of state oil extraction. Mr. Crowfoot stated. There are about 32,400 wells in that zone, said Erin Mellon, a Newsom spokeswoman. Community sites include homes and apartments, preschools and K-12 schools, day cares, businesses, and health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Existing wells will not need to be closed, but they would have to be subjected to new pollution control measures such as comprehensive leak detection, response plans, water sampling and reduction of nighttime light and dust. These measures are intended to reduce noise pollution and asthma, as well as reducing complications during pregnancy.

Administration officials said they hope the new rules will be burdensome enough to prompt some drillers to close the wells. The requirements would require operators to meet the financial obligations. They have one to two year to comply.

Jared Blumenfeld, California’s environmental protection secretary, said the rules signal to existing drillers that “they’re going to have to invest a significant amount of time, money, and attention in order to get into compliance.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.