Despite California’s progress in other areas and claims that it’s a climate leader, the Golden State has a major fracking problem. A bill introduced in the state’s senate this week would change that, though.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Scott Wiener and Monique Limón on Wednesday, would completely outlawing fracking statewide by 2027. The two sponsors are also aiming to amend the bill to include a shorter-term policy, which would halt all fracking within 2,500 feet (762 meters) of any homes, schools, healthcare facilities, “long-term care institutions,” including university dormitories and prisons, by Jan. 1, 2022.
According to the California Geologic Energy Management Division, the state has over 2,000 active fracking wells open right now, and Gov. Gavin Newsom just approved 11 new ones this month.
In addition, it would also ban three other fossil fuel extraction methods: acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming, and water and steam flooding. State data shows that of the nearly 33,000 active oil and gas wells in California, 24 use acid treatment, over 14,000 use cyclic steaming, over 4,000 use water steaming, and still another 4,000 use steam flooding. The bill would in essence be a major step to wind down the state’s longstanding relationship with fossil fuel extraction.
If you’re worried about the fossil fuel workers the bill would put at risk of layoffs, the legislation’s sponsors are, too. That’s why the measure also would require California’s oil and gas regulators to mitigate job loss by providing financial incentives to fossil fuel remediation firms to hire displaced workers to do things like find and plug orphan wells.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said many times that he favors phasing out fossil fuel production in the state, and in November 2019, he even placed a moratorium on issuing fracking permits. Of course, since lifting that temporary ban in April, he’s issued 94 more permits to frack. This bill would turn this lip-service into real change.
If it passes, the measure will be a huge win for communities on the frontlines of extraction, who are usually working class and of color. A 2019 report found that 1.8 million Californians lived within a mile of oil and gas extraction sites, and that more than 90% of them were Black or brown.
But it’s still very much a question of if the bill will pass. Last year, legislators attempted to establish minimum distances between fracking wells and homes, schools, and other facilities, but after it passed in the state assembly, the measure failed in the state senate. Even absent statewide action, some counties and cities have banned fracking or passed setback laws. Beverly Hills, for example, became the first city in the state to ban the process in 2014 while Ventura County passed a setback law just last year that will require at least 2,500 feet (762 meters) of space between oil and gas wells and communities.
If California officials really want to secure their spot as climate leaders, the new bill in the state senate is a vital avenue to do that. The hazards fracking poses to human health and, of course, the climate are well-documented. It’s time for California to cut it out.