Gov. Gavin Newsom’s efforts to phase out oil extraction practices statewide could have implications for oil workers in North County long term, but local officials and activists are hopeful the state’s shift to clean energy will benefit the economy and the environment.
Last Friday, Gov. Newsom directed the Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division to end the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, permits by 2024. In addition, the governor announced plans to phase out oil extraction completely by 2045, directing the California Air Resources Board to determine the best pathways to reach this goal.
In Santa Barbara County, Gov. Newsom’s order would impact the onshore oil extraction practices currently taking place in Orcutt, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Los Alamos and the Santa Ynez Valley once it comes time to phase out oil extraction completely in the next two decades.
But in the short run, the new directive from the governor will not have an impact on jobs in North County since the oil industry in Santa Barbara County uses cyclic steam injection, not fracking, for oil extraction. This form of extraction injects hot steam underground, which melts thick, tar-like oil and brings it to the surface.
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart voiced support for the governor’s directive, adding that he was hopeful the governor would have enacted change faster.
“(The governor’s announcement) is an important next step in the transition to renewable energy for California,” Mr. Hart told the News-Press. “I would also add that I had hoped the governor would go further than he did, but every step forward is important progress in reducing greenhouse gas emission and addressing climate change.”
During his tenure, Gov. Newsom has made lofty climate goals, including an executive order that would require all new vehicles sold in the state would be emission-free by 2035. Despite these goals, the governor has received backlash from environmentalists who say the presence of oil exactration contracts with the state’s clean energy mindset.
With this new order, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams told the News-Press that the governor is providing some substance to support his green energy goals.
“The conditions that would make (Santa Barbara County) a good place for green technology and knowledge-based technology companies is incompatible with a place with a large amount of oil production,” Mr. Williams said.
He later added, “I wish (the directive) was faster, but I understand that a transition of this magnitude is going to take time. So I definitely support the governor’s move. And I do think it is precisely the purpose of this move to put substance behind the goals that have been made.”
Oil industry executives and labor groups voiced opposition following Gov. Newsom’s announcement, claiming the transition to clean energy will harm California industry workers and increase dependence on overseas oil producers.
“Banning nearly 20% of the energy production in our state will only hurt workers, families and communities in California and turns our energy independence over to foreign suppliers,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president and CEO of Western States Petroleum Association, said in a statement. “Through all means possible, we will join with workers, community leaders and others who wish to protect access to safe, affordable and reliable energy to fight this harmful and unlawful mandate. We will be a key part of an equitable energy future for California.”
Though oil industry workers and executives continue to voice concern about the loss of jobs associated with a move to clean energy, Mr. Hart said the need for workers in the energy market will not disappear in the transition.
“It’s a very important consideration how we manage the transition to renewable energy and protect high paying jobs for people in the oil industry,” Mr. Hart told the News-Press. “One of the things I’m very interested in with this transition is seeing what is required to cease operation in a safe and sound manner — capping oil wells, doing all the remediation work that is necessary to close oil fields. I’m hopeful that work will be done by skilled, trained union workers who can best ensure the proper closure of oil wells.”
Local environmental activists also had high praise for Newsom’s announcement.
Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, said the move to cleaner energy is key for the health of the Central Coast in the future.
“We will be healthier if we can make a gradual transition away from oil production to clean energy,” Ms. Davis told the News-Press. “(This is) the economy of the future and there are a lot more jobs in solar energy and wind (industry).”
Ms. Davis and other members of the Los Padres Chapter have continuously voiced concern over the cyclic steaming practices taking place in Orcutt and in Cat Canyon, where oil workers drill below the Santa Maria aquifer. The aquifer provides drinking water for North County, and members of the region’s Sierra Club are concerned the cyclic steaming practices could contaminate the water and cause other adverse effects for the environment.
“We are particularly worried about oil drilling through the Santa Maria groundwater aquifer, which provides drinking water for north county,” Ms. Davis said in an email. “It is impossible to clean up contaminated groundwater.”
She continued, “Cyclic steaming also requires a lot of energy to produce the oil. Gas-powered steam generators put out a lot of air pollution, which is why oil produced in California actually produces more emissions per barrel than oil produced elsewhere and imported into California, even including transporting the oil here. California oil is actually worse for the environment than imported oil.”