California Issues 190% More New Oil and Gas Drilling Permits

Map of oil and gas wells in California from NewsomWellWatch.com

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.”

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