Auditor Calls for Shutdown of Illegal Injection Wells, Major Reform

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the California Department of Finance released a damning audit detailing repeated violations of oil and gas regulations. Today’s report shows that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s oil and gas regulators repeatedly skipped required reviews when approving hundreds of oil and gas wells last year.

“It’s shocking to see the rampant rubberstamping of dangerous oil projects without even the basic review requirements,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “It’s absolutely reckless for Gov. Newsom to continue approving new projects when so many haven’t been properly reviewed.”

Among the most disturbing practices was the California Geologic Energy Management Division’s (CalGEM) use of “dummy files.” CalGEM approved 201 wells from April to October 2019, claiming the wells were part of a pre-approved injection project. But there was no underlying project approval or evidence of review for any of these wells.

These included 140 cyclic steam injection wells, the type linked to several large-scale oil spills in 2019 and one oil worker’s death in 2011. The Department of Finance recommended that CalGEM cease injection activity for these illegal wells pending further review.

The report also revealed that CalGEM repeatedly allowed oil companies to expand or modify injection projects without further review. In one case, CalGEM approved a 640-acre expansion, adding 400 new wells to an existing project. CalGEM ignored requirements to revise the project approval.

The audit found additional problems in its review of 213 fracking permits issued last year. CalGEM identified multiple cases where the proposed fracking would take place close to “high risk” wells that could serve as a pathway for contamination. But CalGEM approved the permits anyway, failing to explain its reasoning and failing to keep records of how and why the agency determined the wells to be high risk.

The audit’s scope did not include CalGEM’s lack of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The state regulator has issued more than 1,800 permits in 2020 to drill and frack without conducting a legally required environmental review.

The audit was released just days after Gov. Newsom’s regulators approved a set of eight fracking permits to Chevron. Gov. Newsom has now approved 62 fracking permits authorizing 512 fracking events.

Most of the fracking permits went to Aera Energy. Gov. Newsom has faced harsh backlash for ignoring COVID-19 guidelines to attend a luxury birthday dinner at the French Laundry for Jason Kinney, a lobbyist whose firm represents Aera Energy.

“If you thought that dining with an oil lobbyist at French Laundry showed Newsom’s true colors, this audit proves you right,” said Kretzmann. “Even as his own agency is calling for illegal oil and gas wells to be shut down, Newsom and his regulators continue to turn a blind eye and hand out more dangerous permits.”

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