Years of organizing are starting to pay off in California, as Governor Newsom is finally beginning to take action against oil and gas issues after years of inaction from state leaders. Things that were seemingly impossible under Governor Brown suddenly seem possible, and we can thank a robust and diverse climate action movement for it.
The latest announcement from the governor about new procedures on some extreme fossil fuel extraction and storage is due to years of organizing, coalition building, and putting tough, direct pressure on our targets — first Governor Brown, and now Governor Newsom. Just days after Food & Water Action activists confronted Newsom at the California Democratic Convention, and weeks after we joined local allies in blockading the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, the governor announced several steps his administration is taking to finally start reigning in the oil and gas industry in California.
This week Governor Newsom announced:
Expedited Permanent Closure of Aliso Canyon
The 2015 Aliso Canyon gas blowout was the largest in US history. It caused 25,000 people to evacuate and poisoned many. The latest fires, revelations of chronic benzene poisoning and ongoing toxic greenhouse gas emissions from Aliso Canyon make this a health crisis and climate emergency that must be addressed.
Our fight to shut down Aliso Canyon has always been about justice. The people of the San Fernando Valley deserve to live without fear. While the facility has not been operating at full capacity, it still poses a threat to the community — as recent fires that approached the facility made clear. That’s why Food & Water Action has been working with the community to shut down the facility since the blowout.
Newsom has now directed the state Public Utilities Commission to “expedite planning for the permanent closure” of the facility, the first time a governor has directed that in writing. However, Newsom called for a study on how to do that with no timeline for when the facility would be closed or when the study should be completed.
We appreciate Governor Newsom making his desire to permanently shut down Alison Canyon clear, but another study is just another delay. We must continue to call on Gov. Newsom to take action with an executive order and shut Aliso down immediately. No more excuses.
Moratorium on High-Pressure Cyclic Steam
Newsom ordered a moratorium on high-pressure cyclic steam extraction, pending a study on how to regulate or prohibit this practice. This followed a massive oil spill disaster relating to the practice in Kern County that resulted in a multi-million dollar fine and cleanup effort by Chevron.
This is certainly great news and may result in some extraction projects not being completed across the state. A moratorium will ensure that no new high pressure cyclic steam permits are issued, but it is unclear how much production this will impact. We must be vigilant. Notably, the moratorium doesn’t cover regular cyclic steam practices, leaving California communities vulnerable to this dangerous practice.
Rulemaking Process to Protect Community Health and Safety Near Oil and Gas Operations
Oil and gas operations in communities pose significant public health and safety threats. For years we have been working to support communities that have been leading efforts to get a 2,500-foot setback of existing oil and gas operations from homes, schools and other sensitive locations.
The decision by the governor's office to finally take its mandate to protect the health of communities seriously is a good first step, but the outcome of this rulemaking process is uncertain. There is no guarantee that we will get strong rules on setbacks. We must continue to work with the communities living next to neighborhood oil drilling and support them in the call for a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer zone. This fight has been consistently led by environmental justice groups, low income communities and communities of color in our state, who deserve our support and gratitude.
Recently, after two years of stalling, a report by Los Angeles petroleum administrator ended up calling for completely inadequate 600-foot setbacks. This shows what type of fight lies ahead as we engage in rulemaking at the statewide level. (The L.A. petroleum administrator that recommended 600-ft setbacks in Los Angeles is now heading up the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency - a sign of the struggle to come.)
Independent Third Party Review of Fracking Permits
Fracking accounts for a significant portion of oil production in California - about 20 percent over the last decade. During Governor Newsom’s first six months in office, fracking permits increased — until Consumer Watchdog released data showing as much. Newsom then fired the head of oil and gas regulation in the state, and though overall drilling permits continue to be issued, there has been a de-facto moratorium on fracking permits since July.
Newsom’s directive on fracking does the following: First, he directed the state auditor to do a study on fracking to determine if the current process needs to be strengthened. Second, until the audit is complete, the current permit backlog and additional permits will be reviewed by experts at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, who will determine whether the permits comply with state regulations. It is unclear who these experts are and how many permits will be approved. To be clear, this extra level of review is not a moratorium on fracking.
None of these actions are close to sufficient to address the climate and public health emergency in California we face today But it is also true that none of these things would have happened without consistent, direct, and broad based pressure on Newsom. Already this year we’ve generated thousands of petitions and phone calls to Newsom, and directly challenged him at events in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. And we’re working together with more organizations across the state, the country and the world. The Last Chance Alliance, a coalition of which we are a member, has more than 700 organizations united in demanding that Newsom immediately halt all fossil fuel permits, adopt at 2500 foot setback, and transition the state off fossil fuels.
This week’s progress proves that organizing works. We showed that when we stand together, we can make real progress. But our fight has only just begun. We must continue to ramp up pressure, further expand the campaign, expand our base of support, and stay strong with our direct and bold demands of GovernorNewsom. This is how we win.
Add your name to our petition to get Governor Newsom moving more rapidly on these issues!