For the second time in the last six months, California regulators have failed to meet a deadline set by Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue well-siting regulations for oil and gas drilling sites in the state.
Unlike other oil and gas producing states, such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas, California currently has no regulations specifying how far drilling rigs can be from homes, businesses, or schools. Newsom directed California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) to impose such rules.
After CalGEM missed Newsom’s first deadline in December, regulators said they would have something ready by this spring, but spring came and went with no regulations being issued.
Open Letter to Newsom
CalGEM’s pattern of missed deadlines is trying the patience of some environmental groups.
In an open letter to Newsom, dozens of environmental groups under the name Last Chance Alliance called on the governor quit waiting for CalGEM to act and immediately mandate a 2,500-foot buffer between drilling rigs and such places as homes and schools, and to issue a moratorium on all new drilling in those zones.
“Given CalGEM’s long track record of failing to prioritize public health outcomes over fossil fuel interests, please direct your agency to instate nothing short of a 2,500-foot setback between fossil fuel operations and sensitive sites,” the letter said.
Tricky Political Landscape
CalGEM says the matter is complicated and has not set a new date for issuing a draft rule.
The delays come at a bad time for Newsom who faces a recall election this fall. Green groups have been among his most ardent supporters, but he risks angering unionized oil workers if he clamps down too aggressively on their industry.
California is the nation’s seventh-largest oil-producing state, and the oil and gas industry directly employs 152,000 people in California, workers who make $89,500 a year on average. Scientifically unjustified buffer zones are opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the Construction Trades Council, says Kevin Slagle, vice president for strategic communications at the WSPA.
“The oil and gas industry is not opposed to setbacks; in fact, it has supported setbacks that are based on science, data, local conditions, and rigorous health assessments,” Slagle says. “But a mandated, one-size-fits-all approach will cost the state billions and put thousands out of work.”
California is curiously the odd man out on well siting regulations, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which co-publishes Environment & Climate News.
“It’s ironic California’s ruling elites, who think they can micromanage the climate and how people use energy, cannot meet their own deadlines, even though other states, with little fanfare, have somehow managed to address the setback issue,” Rucker said.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (email@example.com) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the CFACT.