By Ramona du Houx

April 18, 2021

When oil and gas production is enhanced by using hydraulic fracturing, acid well stimulation treatments, and cyclic-steam operations an increase in earthquakes and seismicity, air pollution, surface and groundwater contamination, oil spillage, contaminated wastewater, and more frequent occurrences of sinkholes occur. Senate Bill 467 was poised to move its way through the state legislature, and end these industry practices — but it died in committee without the support of Governor Newsom.

The legislation anticipated a decline in production by phasing out the most dangerous forms of drilling first. It would have created a mechanism for existing wells to expire as permits were not renewed, and provided a pathway for a just transition for workers who have been impacted by the fluctuating unstable oil industry for decades.

In addition, it would have restricted all new or modified permits for oil and gas production within 2,500 foot safety setbacks of any residences, schools, health care facilities or long-term care institutions such as dormitories or prisons by January 1, 2023. Over 350,000 students attend school within a mile of an active well, while over 120,000 students attend school within half a mile of an active well. 

Californians overwhelmingly support taking these actions. The bill was sponsored by over 100 groups from throughout California.

Elected Officials to Protect America-California, a group of more than 320 Californian elected officials, has been fighting for the provisions in SB 467 since the Brown administration. 

“Elected Officials to Protect America-California saw this bill as a catalyst, which could have made the state a leader in phasing out dirty oil and gas operations, while providing a just transition for workers and communities,” said Dominic Frongillo, Elected Officials to Protect America Executive Director. “Our Californian members fully supported this legislation but it had no hope without the governor’s backing.”

Elected Officials to Protect America-California delivered a letter to Governor Newsom signed by over 315 elected officials, representing 49 counties. The letter asked him to establish the 2,500 foot safety setbacks, phase out oil and gas operations with a just transition for communities and workers, and to transition the state to a 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

SB 467 was crafted to meet California’s climate goals, and the Governor’s Executive Order to end the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035. The level of production that is needed to continue was matched with the time necessary to transition the workforce and reduce fossil fuel demand.

“Being next door to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, my community lives on the edge not knowing if fracking operations will be the catalyst for an earthquake. Fracking has to end,” said Heidi Harmon, Mayor of San Luis Obispo, Elected Officials to Protect America-California Co-chair. “With a clean energy economy we can have parks, instead of oil pumps. Our hillsides could be dotted with wind turbines, instead of fracking wells, and the air our children breathe will be clean. That’s a future we all can embrace, a future that’s possible.”

Right now, nearly 7.5 million Californians live within one mile of an active oil or gas well while over 2 million live within one mile of an operational well. Over 35,000 Californinas die prematurely from oil industry pollution. Over 92 percent of people who live in the most heavily polluted neighborhoods near oil and gas wells are people of color, who have also been hardest hit from the pandemic.

The majority of oil and gas operations take place in areas already impacted by poor air quality, where dangerously high levels of fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene are breathed in daily. Many peer reviewed studies link proximity to oil and gas wells to a host of health impacts, including increased risk of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, preterm births and high-risk pregnancies. Asthma rates increase closer to an active well, as do hospitalizations for heart failure, fatigue, stress and other serious health complications.

“Stopping fracking infrastructure is important to protect the health and safety of our residents. Living near fracking puts you at risk of really serious health problems,” said Daniel Lee, Vice Mayor of Culver City, and EOPA-CA letter signatory. “From a broader perspective, our residents also really care about taking substantive action to address the climate crisis. The more we invest in dirty fuels, the more health problems and climate disasters we’re locking ourselves into.” 

Financial fluctuations based on changes in the global market have made the oil industry unstable. Now, with new clean technologies available, the fossil fuel economy is no longer cost effective. The end of extraction in California is inevitable with the rise of a clean energy economy. As demand for fossil fuels decreases, so must production.

A 2018 study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute found that cutting one barrel of oil extraction in California will decrease global oil consumption globally by 0.2 to 0.6 barrels, mitigating the increase in production that could occur elsewhere. Yet companies continue to pump dirty fossil fuels out of the ground every day across California, exposing nearby residents to a toxic cocktail of pollution. 

Despite its public image, California remains one of the largest oil-producing states in the nation. While California has committed to ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, without phasing out the industrial particles of extraction listed in SB 467 the state won’t meet those goals, according to numerous studies.

The notion that the state would have to buy oil from foreign countries is absurd. California is a major oil refinery state accepting some of the dirtiest oil, like tar sands, in the world. The state imports oil to be refined with much of the end product being sent back to the country of origin. So, Californians don’t use a large portion of the oil refined in their backyards. But that refinery process causes pollution which has led to premature deaths and chronic illnesses in communities that host these multinational corporations.

In 2020, Kern was ranked the worst U.S. county for year-round particle pollution in the American Lung Association’s annual report. More than 70 percent of oil and 80 percent of natural gas produced in California comes from Kern County, which is predominantly Latinx. According to state data, a high proportion of Kern’s communities of color and low income live near emissions sources such as extraction, distribution and refining sites.

“Kern county supervisors just voted to add 40,000 more oil and gas wells despite the documented dangers to the health of the people living here, which includes many oil and gas workers. We need the state to step in to challenge the status quo which isn’t sustainable for the environment and the economy,” said Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio, Co-chair of California’s Elected Officials to Protect America. “This legislation would have provided a true just transition for workers. I’d rather see families enjoying their local parks, than having them concerned that their children’s playgrounds are right next to oil and gas wells. That is our future, we must move away from antiquated technologies.”

These extraction methods also utilize an enormous amount of water, which with droughts happening on a regular basis and agriculture demands increasing have proven devastating for Kern’s people and the economy. The water that does get used for enhanced oil extraction is likely to never re-enter the water cycle due to the levels of contamination the practices cause, thereby using the community resource without replenishing it. In 2014 the hydraulic fracturing industry alone used nearly 70 million gallons of water. The successive extreme drought of 2015 killed 20,000 agriculture-related jobs and cost roughly $2.7 billion. People suffered, illnesses rose. People had to exist using water tanks brought in to provide some relief.

On the national level, elected officials are also standing up to ban fracking. A letter, facilitated by Food & Water Watch, was sent to President Biden and Congress on April 13th, signed by 375 local and state elected officials from across the country. 

“California’s frontline communities have known for years that fracking is a devastating practice that sickens nearby communities,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Oil and gas companies prey on those they know lack the funds or political power to challenge them, establishing long legacies of environmental injustice. President Biden has the authority and responsibility to end the cycle of extraction and begin a just transition away from fossil fuels. Without federal action, the oil and gas lobby could tighten its stranglehold over California.”

The letter called on national leaders to halt permitting for new fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure projects, revoke existing permits for oil and gas extraction within 2,500 feet of homes and schools, end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and support a just transition to clean energy for workers and communities impacted by fossil fuels.

“EOPA is happy to see that the Biden administration is prioritizing environmental justice. It is a major step towards a clean energy economy. Phasing out permits for drilling, especially for those most harmful to frontline and fence line communities, would be an important next step that needs to happen. Too many people suffer chronic illnesses and premature deaths from the toxic pollution fossil fuel extraction and production causes,” said Dominic Frongillo, Elected Officials to Protect America Executive Director.

Senate Bill 467 was a step-by-step process to ensure a just transition for all involved.

  • Senate Bill 467 would have halted the issuance or renewal of permits for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming, and water and steam flooding starting July 1, 2023.
  • It would have phased out new permits for steam flood or water flood injection wells by January 1, 2035.
  • New permits for low pressure cyclic steam injection would have been phased out by January 1, 2027.
  • During the entire process, the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) would have been directed to identify oil and gas workers who have lost their jobs and offer incentives to well remediation contractors to prioritize the hiring of these identified former workers.
This video shows the work of the California Chapter of the Elected Officials to Protect America on phasing out oil and gas production in the state.