Almost 3 million people live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil well in California. (Last Chance Alliance)

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By Suzanne Potter

February 15, 2023   

Supporters of a California law to ban oil and gas drilling within 3,200 feet of sensitive sites like homes and schools are gearing up to fight a new ballot measure which would invalidate the law.

Last week, a referendum qualified for the ballot to overturn Senate Bill 1137, which automatically put the 2022 drilling restrictions on hold.

Katie Valenzuela is a member of the Sacramento City Council who grew up in Oildale in Kern County, and she supports the ban.

“My elementary school, my home — places where we would shop, the parks we went to — are all very close to some very large oil fields,” Valenzuela pointed out. “I take asthma inhalers every single day to keep me being able to breathe. And I will be doing that for the rest of my life.”

2021 study from Stanford found increased levels of toxic air pollution downwind of oil and gas wells. As of December, the oil industry had contributed about $20 million to the referendum effort, known as “Stop the Energy Shutdown.” The group’s Facebook page asserted the ban would cost 50,000 jobs in the industry, and increase dependence on foreign oil.

Valenzuela believes petition gatherers misrepresented the effects of the referendum.

“The oil industry didn’t hesitate to drop millions of dollars to lie to voters,” Valenzuela contended. “I saw some that had signs up saying this would lower gas prices, this would do all sorts of things that the measure wouldn’t do.”

The measure will now be on the California ballot in 2024. Cal GEM, the state agency regulating oil and gas, has been working on regulations to phase out new drilling for the past few years. Cal GEM’s director resigned in January, so environmental groups are pressing Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint someone who will prioritize the health of front line communities.


Referendum Office of the Sec’y of State 02/03/2023
Senate Bill 1137 (2022) 09/16/2022
Pollution study Stanford Univ. 02/01/2022
Stop the Energy Shutdown 2023
Analysis Fractracker Alliance Dec. 2021