California introduces new oil drilling ban in close proximity to neighborhoods

California's oil regulator proposed Thursday that the state ban all new oil and gas drilling within 3200 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals. This would protect public health and create the largest buffer zone in the country between oil wells.

California introduces new oil drilling ban in close proximity to neighborhoods

This is the latest effort of Democratic Governor. Gavin Newsom's administration is attempting to reduce oil production in California. He aligns himself with environmental activists who are fighting to curb climate change and the powerful oil industry in California's seventh largest oil-producing state.

Research shows that living close to a drilling site can increase the risk of developing birth defects, cancer, and respiratory problems, as well as other health issues. California has more than 2 million residents living within 3200 feet (975m) of oil drilling sites. This includes low-income residents as well as people of color from Los Angeles County, and the Central Valley. Although the proposal does not prohibit existing wells in these areas, it would introduce new pollution control measures.

Newsom stated that "This is about public well-being, public safety, clean water, and clean air -- this is about our children and grandkids, and our future." Newsom spoke in Wilmington, Los Angeles, which has the highest concentration of wells. We have the ability to make a better, greener, cleaner, and brighter future. This is our commitment to that end.

These rules are a draft and indicate what the administration wants. However, they can change and won't be in effect until at least 2023.

California is the first state to establish rules governing how close drilling can get to schools, homes, and other locations. Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas also have regulations about how close oil wells may be to specific properties. The nation's most stringent rule is currently the 2,000-foot Colorado setback for new drilling. It was adopted last year.

California's plan would go beyond the buffer of 2,500 feet (762 meters) that environmental groups requested, if it is adopted. The ruling was praised by a coalition of environmental justice organizations that advocates for Black, Brown and Indigenous communities living in heavily polluted areas. However, Newsom was urged to aggressively eliminate existing neighborhood drilling.

Juan Flores, a community organizer at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, stated that oil and gas companies had been treating our communities like sacrifice zones for more than a century. "Frontline community members have voiced their disapproval at the practice of drilling in their neighborhoods.

In a statement by President Catherine Reheiss-Boyd, the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil & gas interest group, called the proposed rules an "activist attack on California's ways of life, economy, and people".

Reheis-Boyd stated that the industry does not oppose setbacks in local areas but doesn't support a statewide regulation. The rules would result in less reliable energy and higher prices for an industry with approximately 150,000 employees, she said.

Robbie Hunter, an influential labor union representing the State Building and Construction Trades Council, stated that the rule would increase California’s dependence on foreign oil and that the state was "fast becoming the beached whale without any ability to meet its own requirements."

Newsom, who recently won a recall election for California, saw the proposal as the next step in his effort to make sure oil is not part California's future. Newsom directed state regulators to develop a plan to reduce oil and gas production and to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

State legislators who have long advocated for setbacks were present in Wilmington, as well as doctors who spoke out about the dangers of oil contamination for those who live near it, especially pregnant mothers.

"I am tired that my district is being called 'asthma Alley'," said Lena Gonzalez (state senator), a Democrat representing southeast Los Angeles County.

CalGEM (California Geologic Energy Management Division) proposed the rules. This division regulates California's oil industry and issues drilling permits. Newsom instructed it to concentrate on safety and health when he assumed office in 2019. He specifically told the division to look at setbacks for oil drilling to protect the community's health. More than 40,000 comments were received by the state on the draft rules. The state convened a panel of 15 public health experts to study the health and safety effects of oil drilling in the neighborhood.

CalGEM has been criticized for being too friendly with the industry that it regulates. Wade Crowfoot, secretary to the state natural resource agency, recognized that the regulator must do more to enforce compliance by oil companies with state law.

Crowfoot stated that about a third (or more) of state's oil extraction comes from wells located within 3200 feet of community sites. According to Erin Mellon (Newsom spokeswoman), there are approximately 32,400 wells within that area. Communities include apartments and homes, K-12 schools, preschools, day cares, businesses, hospitals, and other health care facilities like nursing homes and hospitals.

Existing wells wouldn't be shut down, but they would need to be subject to many new pollution control measures including comprehensive leak detection plans and response plans, water sampling, vapor recovery and nighttime lighting reduction. They are intended to reduce health problems such as asthma, pregnancy complications, and nuisances like noise pollution.

Officials from the Administration said that they hope the new rules won't be too burdensome for some drillers and prompt them to close their wells. The requirements would require operators to meet financial obligations and they have one to two year to comply.

Jared Blumenfeld of California's environment protection secretary said that the rules will signal to existing drillers "they're going have to spend a significant amount time, money, and attention in order get into compliance."

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