California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday directed the state’s top oil regulator to immediately begin crafting a regulation to halt new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.
In addition to his order to the state’s Geologic Energy Management Division, Newsom asked the California Air Resources Board to study ways to phase out all oil extraction across the state by no later than 2045.
“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a news release. “As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children, I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”
Newsom acted after ambitious legislation — which would have gone much further — died in the state Senate last week. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, while a hot button issue nationally, accounts for between 2% and 20% of California’s oil extraction. Just a dozen new fracking permits have been issued statewide this year.
Senate Bill 467 would have also banned dangerous and far more common cyclic steaming techniques and imposed a mandatory 2,500-foot buffer between oil and gas operations.
Newsom opted for a far more cautious route, aiming to cut a middle path between increasingly angry environmentalists and social justice advocates on one side and powerful trade unions and politically connected oil lobbyists on the other.
CalGEM is also expected to announce a “public health” draft regulation sometime this spring that could include a buffer zone and other measures, after delaying it late last year. Drafting regulations could bullet-proof them against lawsuits, but means implementation will stretch out for years.
The governor’s announcement did little to appease critics on either side.
A top Newsom administration official said last fall that it was up to the legislature to ban fracking, and Newsom said he wanted to work with them to do it. But environmentalists and some independent legal experts say he has the authority to issue an executive order to halt drilling, especially near residential areas, at once.
“The governor can and should use the power entrusted to him by immediately issuing a moratorium on drilling next to our homes, schools and hospitals to protect families from unconscionable health and safety burdens that endanger our families,” said Gladys Limón, executive director for the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
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“We welcome this historic announcement … yet we are acutely aware of the slow and often exclusionary nature of regulatory processes,” said Martha Dina Agruello, Executive Director for the Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles.
The state’s leasing oil lobbyists also lambasted the announcement, vowing to sue and take other steps if necessary.
“Once again, Gov. Newsom has chosen to ignore science, data and facts to govern by bans, mandates and personal fiat,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of Western States Petroleum Association. “Banning nearly 20% of the energy production in our state will only hurt workers, families and communities in California and turn our energy independence over to foreign suppliers.
“Through all means possible, we will join with workers, community leaders and others who wish to protect access to safe, affordable and reliable energy to fight this harmful and unlawful mandate. We will be a key part of an equitable energy future for California.”
California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman said the “Governor’s legally questionable announcement” was “disappointing.”
Under Newsom’s direction, the state air board will evaluate how to phase out oil extraction by 2045 through the Climate Change Scoping Plan, the state’s multi-year plan to achieve mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Inclusion in the scoping plan “means that phasing out oil extraction becomes a part of California’s blueprint to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045,” according to the governor’s statement.
Janet Wilson is senior environment reporter for The Desert Sun/USA TODAY Network. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @janetwilson66