California seeks strict limits on new oil drilling near communities By Reuters

© Reuters. School buses line up outside Woodrow Wilson Senior High School as students return to in-person classes in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday unveiled a plan to ban new permitting of oil wells within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of communities, calling it a move that will both protect public health and further the state’s goals to combat climate change.

The move is a win for state environmental justice advocates that have long lobbied for stricter regulations around installing oil and gas operations near places where people live.

Studies have linked communities’ proximity to oil and gas developments with higher rates of asthma, birth defects and heart disease, state officials said.

If finalized, the rules would be the most stringent of any state in the nation, topping Colorado’s 2,000-foot (610-meter)setback requirement approved last year.

The proposal would not close existing operations but would impose new pollution controls on wells currently within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of homes, schools, hospitals and other facilities.

Newsom announced the proposal at a news conference in the Los Angeles-area neighborhood of Wilmington, a primarily Latino community that is adjacent to a major oil field.

“I know for many this has been a long and frustrating and arduous journey,” Newsom said, noting that 2 million Californians live within half a mile (805 meters) of an oil drilling site.

He also said the proposal fits in with California’s goal of weaning its economy off of fossil fuels.

“We don’t see oil in our future,” he said.

Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd said in an emailed statement that the proposal would “eliminate tax revenues and community benefits, raise costs for everyone and put thousands of people out of work.”

Legislative efforts aimed at requiring setbacks between oil and gas operations and communities failed in California in recent years, prompting Newsom in 2019 to direct the state’s oil and gas regulator to strengthen regulations around oil and gas activities near homes, schools, hospitals and parks.

“Governor Newsom and his administration (are) now listening to the front line communities and health professionals who have borne the burden of proving they have been harmed by oil extraction,” Martha Dina Arguello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said in a statement.

The proposed rule was published by the California Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division, the state agency that regulates oil and gas operations. The agency will accept public comments on the draft for 60 days, and it will then undergo an economic analysis and refinement before it can be finalized.

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