By Chris Reed
Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced an immediate suspension of permits allowing new hydraulic fracturing and steam-injected oil drilling – the latest in a series of moves in the past week underscoring California’s determination to be seen as a leader in climate change efforts.
“These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” Newsom said in a statement released by his office.
While Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, also used his job to promote the Golden State as a leader in the effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions believed to be a primary cause of global warming, he opposed a fracking moratorium. Brown’s aides noted the economic benefits of being the third-largest oil-producing state – home to 72,000 wells and 350,000-plus good-paying oil-related jobs. Brown may also have been intrigued by disputed reports in 2013 that the Golden State was sitting on massive oil reserves larger than those of Saudi Arabia.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, pushed back hard at Newsom’s assertion that California had no choice but to crack down on unsafe drilling practices.
“Multiple state agencies already validate our protection of health, safety and the environment during production,” she said in a statement. Reheis-Boyd joined several Republican officials in warning of severe economic consequences of what they depicted as an end to new oil drilling.
State may require buffer zones around many oil wells
But the obstacles Newsom plans to add to gas and oil exploration don’t stop with a ban on the two extraction techniques. The Los Angeles Times reported that he “plans to study the possible adoption of buffer zones around oil wells in or near residential neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and other facilities that could be exposed to hazardous fumes” – a move with the potential to sharply add to regulatory burdens of owners of the wells.
Other moves that Newsom has announced in the last week include:
- The state will no longer purchase gas-powered sedans. Law-enforcement agencies are exempted.
- The state will only buy vehicles from automakers that agreed to follow California’s vehicle-emission rules rather than the weaker rules backed by the Trump administration. So far, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW have sided with California. General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia and Fiat Chrysler last month said they would follow the weaker federal standards.
- The Newsom administration has formally asked the California Public Utilities Commission to permanently close the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch as soon as feasible. The facility has been the target of intense protests by its neighbors and environmentalists since a 2015 disaster resulted in among the largest releases of methane gas in world history – an immense leak that took nearly four months to stop and forced the evacuation of nearly 3,000 households.
Environmental groups hailed Newsom’s series of moves – especially what they depicted as the beginning of the end of fracking in the state.
Livermore lab experts must OK new fracking permits
But the governor’s announcement left open the possibility that new fracking permits could be – if independent experts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory attested to their safety.
That’s not necessarily a long shot. Even as greens spent years depicting hydraulic fracturing as dangerous and destructive, several Cabinet members in the Obama administration said it was akin to other heavy industries – mostly safe if properly regulated.
In 2015, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told KQED, the Northern California PBS channel, that local moratoriums on fracking approved by several cities in the state were the “wrong way to go.”
“There is a lot of misinformation about fracking,” she said. “I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it and I think there needs to be more science.”
But Newsom said he didn’t agree with this benign view of fracking while campaigning for governor in 2018 and promised a crackdown if elected.
Republished with Permission from CalWatchDog.org