Oil and gas drillers rally to overthrow a crucial California environmental rule

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Inglewood apartment buildings are near oil wells. California Governor. Gavin Newsom — and opposed by oil and gas drillers — increases the minimum distance between new wells and residential neighborhoods. (Associated Press)

Oil and gas companies have been used to getting their way from California regulators for many decades. This year, they suffered a rare loss.

It happened in September when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 137. requires a minimum distance Between new oil and natural gas wells, and places of human habitation, work, such as schools, homes, and healthcare facilities.

That distance is 3,200 feet — about two thirds of a mile or roughly one kilometer. California has more than 2,000,000 residents. They are disproportionately low-income or of color and live within that range.

To put it another way: [the standard] You are not paying enough attention to all the evidence.

Rachel Morello-Frosch, UC Berkeley

You don’t know the oil drillers if you think the industry will just disappear and accept its loss at Sacramento.

Instead, they are launching a multimillion dollar campaign to repeal the law at every ballot box. They announced on Wednesday that they had collected more than 978,000 signatures To place a referendum in this regard on the 2024 ballot.

Their war chest, which includes more than $20 million raised primarily from independent oil-and-gas drillers, is currently worth more than $20 million. Because of the stakes, you can expect it will grow. California produced about 146,000,000 barrels of crude oil between 2021 and 2021. Its current price is $10 billion to $12 million.

Also, expect that the war chest will be used for deceitful and balderdash as a result of business attempts to repeal regulations they don’t like.

This is possible because the process has already begun. Oil and gas drillers promoted their proposed referendum using the slogan “Stop Energy Shutdown!”

This implies that the law will close existing wells and prohibit new ones. However, SB 1137 only applies the minimum distance rule to new wells. It only requires greater environmental reporting from existing wells. Nothing is being “shutdown.”

California Independent Petroleum Assn. launched the referendum campaign. The California Independent Petroleum Assn. (CIPA), is just one of many attempts by large business to override California laws at ballot box.

Proposition 22, a 2020 referendum funded Lyft, Uber, and other gig companies, is the epitome of this. This referendum aimed to exempt them from a state statute that clamps down on drivers and delivery workers being misclassified as independent contractors.

These companies won a campaign that cost more than $200,000,000, which is a record. This campaign denied their workers minimum wage, worker compensation, and other protections. Proposition 22 is currently being reexamined by a state court.

Also in 2020, the bail bond industry — comprising huge international insurance companies masquerading as mom-and-pop storefronts — succeeded in repealing a California law eliminating cash bail. It was a defeat for reform efforts to reform an important feature of the judicial systems. profoundly infected with racial bias.

Restaurant industry is expected to challenge a 2022 state law that established the state of 2024 on the 2024 state ballot minimum wage and workplace protection rules Fast food workers. More than 1,000,000 petition signatures have been submitted by the industry, which is well over the 623,000 needed to place the referendum before the voters.

Even if laws don’t win the vote, the referendum process is beneficial to the legislation’s targets. Because a law cannot go into effect while a referendum is active and awaiting a vote,

Referendums are only allowed during general elections that take place every two years. The setback law, which would have been in effect from January 1, 2019, would be suspended if the oil and gaz referendum qualifies.

CIPA’s rich history deserves to be highlighted. In 2015, the organization was particularly aggressive in its criticism of environmentalist critics drilling companies. However, it ended in its own way.

Criticians criticized Los Angeles’s indulgent policies. They claimed that the city was rubber stamping oil drilling permits, in violation of California Environmental Quality Act. They accused the city, which they claimed was especially lax in processing drilling applications from and near majority Latino/Black communities.

CIPA sued environmental groups after the city tightened their procedures. CIPA was ordered to pay $2.3million in legal fees by a state appeals court. Embarrassingly, CIPA had to file for bankruptcy. The plan for reorganization was approved by the bankruptcy court in September.

Even before Newsom signed SB1137 on September 16, the industry was already fighting against the new minimum-setback rule. The California Chamber of Commerce placed the measure on hold while it was going through the Legislature. its “job killer” list. This was as clear a sign as anyone could hope to find. It favored corporate interests over the public interest, much like Proposition 22’s repeal and the fast food law that targets the gun-control desires of the restaurant industry.

The main argument of the industry is that the law will stop new well development in California and force California’s refineries to import more oil from abroad, driving up the prices at the pump. Drillers claim that the standard of 3,200 feet is “without any scientific foundation.”

Both of these claims are false. Let’s look at them one by one.

When industry tries to stop a new regulation or law, the pocketbook argument is its trump card. You’re familiar with the phrase “This law is going cost.” You money.” It’s all smoke and mirrors. California crude prices reflect the global oil market; whether California wells produce a drop of oil more or less — or even thousands of barrels a day more or less — has zero impact on what you pay at the pump.

As my colleagues Laurence Darmiento, Sean Greene and Vanessa Martínez reportedCalifornia’s key non-global contributor to gasoline prices is the refinery profit margins. These margins average more that 69 cents per gallon in California, as compared with 54 cents nationally.

CIPA claims that California’s refineries must pay more for imported oil due to the high cost of transportation. However, that is a minor factor since almost four-fifths (or nearly half) of California’s oil comes from overseas.

It’s not like California drillers can increase their output if they have the ability to sink wells wherever they want.

The truth is that the productive capacity of the state’s oil fields has been declining for years — the current output is only about one-third of what it was in the mid-1980s. This is not because drillers are being held back by regulations and rules, but because there is simply less oil available.

CIPA states that SB 1137 is not necessary because “existing laws, both local and state, already required different setback distances to oil wells as a result of thoughtful scientific review.”

This is misleading at best. Setbacks are usually required by local laws. no more than 300 to 500 feet. Prior to SB 1137 there was no state law that addressed the health risks of oil and natural gas wells. However, state fire regulations forbid drilling within 300 feet of schools and healthcare facilities.

That brings us to CIPA’s assertion about the science behind the 3,200-foot rule — or rather, its absurd argument that no scientific basis exists.

The findings of are the foundation for the standard that is written in SB 1137. a 15-member scientific advisory panel That report was submitted to CalGEM in 2021. This panel reviewed more than 60 peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between oil and natural gas development and health concerns in nearby communities.

“To say that [the standard] It is not scientifically unfounded to ignore the overwhelming evidence,” Rachel Morello-Frosch (UC Berkeley expert in environmental policy and cochair of CalGEM’s scientific panel) says. “Tons and tons of studies have examined precisely the distance of one kilometer. It wasn’t pulled from the air.”

Seth B.C. says that the most striking thing about the studies was their “consistency in results.” Shonkoff is the executive director at PSE Healthy Energy, an Oakland-based research institute and was also the other co-chair of the scientific panel.

Shonkoff explained to me that although the studies used different methods, were done in different places, with different populations and at different times, they all showed a link between oil and gas drilling, and health effects on local residents, including low birthweights of newborns, premature delivery, respiratory ailments, and leukemia.

Morello Frosch says that there have been studies on the substances and conditions residents are exposed to near active wells. The volatile, carcinogenic hydrocarbons found in wells can cause cancer. They can also contaminate nearby water tables that are used for household supplies.

These operations not only contribute to water and air pollution but also create noise and light pollution which some studies have shown increases the risk of heart disease and sleep deprivation, which can impact residents’ mental health.

Low-income communities became clustered around oil fields — or, rather, drilling was allowed to become intensified near vulnerable communities — before modern concerns about environmental justice were taken seriously. This has led to millions of people living nearby being bombarded by multiple and numerous pollutants.

If CIPA’s referendum is qualified for the ballot, voters statewide — not only those living and working in close proximity to oil and gas wells — will be facing an entirely different form of pollution — the pollution of the airwaves and mailboxes that rises when well-funded industries try to snow Californians into voting against their best interests.

This story was originally published in Los Angeles Times.

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