California Issues 190% More New Oil and Gas Drilling Permits

Map of oil and gas wells in California from

While California Governor Gavin Newsom has called his state “a leader in the fight to transition away from fossil fuels,” watchdog groups have been calling out the fact that California is continuing to issue oil and gas extraction permits. In fact, as AP reported, despite pushing back against the Trump administration’s plan to expand oil extraction in California, the state has issued 190% more new oil and gas drilling permits in the first six months of 2020 than were approved under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first six months in office.

But as NBC News noted, Governor Newsom said he doesn’t have the authority to put a full moratorium on fracking, but that he wants to transition the state away from its use and, more broadly, reliance on oil and gas. Several environmental groups disputed his claim that he can’t ban fracking himself and noted the Legislature can ban it.

Why This Matters: Last year, Newsom was also criticized for the rate at which California issued fracking permits and he promised a crackdown on fracking projects and a moratorium on new oil wells that use high-pressure steam. But activists were angered when permits began to be issued again this year.

Despite California’s many aggressive climate action goals, the oil and gas industry continues to be a substantial presence in the state. Former governor Jerry Brown supported fracking, drawing ire from environmentalists, and some groups worry that Governor Newsom will follow a similar path to Brown’s.

2020 Election Connection: Fracking bans are central in the 2020 presidential election this year, and have pushed Democratic nominee Joe Biden to double down on his stance that he won’t push to ban fracking if elected. In the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania especially, Democrats worry that a fracking ban platform will cause them to lose the state, and worse, the election as a result. However, in California, a fracking ban is far more politically feasible, as Democrats hold a supermajority in state Legislature and support for renewable energy is high.

Unjust Extraction: Living near oil and gas wells is tied to a series of health risks including low birth weight in infants. And in California, oil wells aren’t just in rural places, they’re immersed in its biggest cities, bringing their hazards to densely populated areas.

The state had an opportunity to help lessen the exposure vulnerable communities have to wells, but 3 state Senate Democrats whose campaigns are in part supported by the fossil fuel industry (Bob Hertzberg from the San Fernando Valley, Ben Hueso of Imperial County, and Anna Caballero of the Salinas Valley) voted against the legislation to do so. As Grist explained,

  • A bill that would have fought pollution and environmental racism by mandating a buffer zone between California residents and oil and gas wells was voted down last week in the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.
  • The bill, AB 345, would have required a setback between oil and gas wells and the 5.4 million Californians currently living near drilling sites. Almost 92 percent of the Californians who both live within a mile of a well and are burdened by pollution are people of color.
  • California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state, home to more than 100,000 oil and gas wells, many of which are located in urban areas.

What’s worse is that across the state, according to an LA Times exposé, “fossil fuel companies are leaving thousands of oil and gas wells unplugged and idle, potentially threatening the health of people living nearby and handing taxpayers a multibillion-dollar bill for the environmental cleanup.”

Up Next

California to Ban Sales of Gas Cars by 2035

California to Ban Sales of Gas Cars by 2035

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state will phase out sales of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. As Governor Newsom said in a separate event with Democratic governors yesterday, people have climate “goal fatigue” and are ready for the application of those goals–this move on gas-powered cars walks the walk on California’s ambitious […]

Continue Reading 387 words
One Great Headline: “Renewables to Quench Pepsi’s Thirst for Power”

One Great Headline: “Renewables to Quench Pepsi’s Thirst for Power”

H/T to, an energy news platform, for that headline, and to PepsiCo for making it possible.  PepsiCo, one of the largest companies in the world — with a global carbon footprint — announced plans this week to transition to 100% renewable electricity across all of its company-owned and controlled operations globally by 2030 and […]

Continue Reading 143 words
A Methane Pandemic: Millions of Abandoned Wells Are Leaking into the Atmosphere

A Methane Pandemic: Millions of Abandoned Wells Are Leaking into the Atmosphere

As the candidates debate fracking, millions of abandoned natural gas wells are leaking literally tons of methane into the atmosphere, and there’s no fix in sight. There are an estimated 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, and an estimated 29 million worldwide.

Why This Matters:  Methane leaks are dangerous — they have led to reports of tap water catching fire, toxic groundwater, and fatal explosions, all of which have been motivators for the federal government to track and seal these wells.

Continue Reading 521 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.