California's Oil Regulators Delay Drilling Health Rules

California Oil Drilling Regulations

California has been struggling to regulate its oil industry in a way that protects human health. Though it's been a year and a half since Governor Gavin Newsom directed oil regulators to install protections for Californians who live close to oil and gas drilling sites, no bills have been signed into law to accomplish these goals.

In fact, state regulators have missed another deadline for releasing the rules, and the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) hasn't set a new deadline.

Why This Matters

Living near a drilling site can cause a multitude of adverse health effects, especially for unborn babies. In Los Angeles, approximately 75% of active oil or gas wells are located within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of "sensitive land uses," such as homes, schools, child care facilities, parks, or senior residential facilities. Asthma was significantly more common among people living near South Los Angeles oil wells than among residents of Los Angeles County as a whole -- this is also throughout the state, including Kern County, which produces 70% of California's oil.

These health impacts shouldn't be ignored. Implementing regulations that adequately protect human health is especially important.

Patagonia: District 15 - Stop Neighborhood Oil Drilling, February 26, 2020.

How Long Can California Wait?

California is the six-largest oil-producing state but has no statewide rules about how close oil and gas wells can be to where people go about their lives. Meanwhile, other states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, and even Texas have implemented such regulations.

Governor Newsom has been caught between two powerful influences in the state: oil workers’ unions and environmentalists. The Western States Petroleum Association and the State Building and Construction Trades Council decry the statewide mandate on buffer zones, saying it would hurt workers and raise gas prices. But environmentalists maintain that the lack of regulations damages the health of the people and ecosystems around the state’s oil wells.

As such, Newsom has let regulations stall in state bureaucracy. David Shabazian, director of the California Department of Conservation, which oversees CalGEM, maintains that "complex subject matter within and beyond our previous regulatory experience" has prevented the department from taking decisive action.

Drawing A Line

But some environmental justice organizations have had enough -- a coalition of dozens of environmental justice organizations have sent Newsom an open letter calling for him to immediately mandate a 2,500-foot (762-meter) buffer zone between wells and places like homes and schools and to issue a moratorium on all new drilling permits that fall within those zones. “Your leadership can deliver equitable and effective relief today,” the letter says.

Cesar Aguirre, a community organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network, echoed this sentiment: "It is clear CalGEM does not respect the urgency needed to prevent further damage and inequity in our communities."