The California Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division proposed a new regulation Thursday that would prohibit the building of new fossil fuel wells and facilities within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other sensitive locations.
Existing wells within a 3,200-foot setback would be subject to new pollution-control guidelines.
Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, introduced legislation in 2019, Assembly Bill 1057, which made a path to Thursday’s announcement. Her bill, once enacted, permitted CalGEM to consider health impacts as it regulates fossil fuels.
UC Berkeley and Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy selected 15 public health experts to inform the draft announced Thursday. The panel saw a connection between the close presence of oil and gas developments and respiratory diseases, heart disease and other health impacts.
“Our reliance on fossil fuels has resulted in more kids getting asthma, more children born with birth defects, and more communities exposed to toxic, dangerous chemicals,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news release. “California is taking a significant step to protect the more than two million residents who live within a half-mile of oil drilling sites, many in low-income and communities of color.”
The proposed regulation is the first made possible by AB 1057. But Sen. Limón told the News-Press the state has been discussing setbacks for years.
Legislators did not know what distance the proposed buffer would be when experts began studying the toxins released from oil wells. The 3,200-foot distance was decided by the scientists, physicians and other experts.
“I want to underscore how important and meaningful it was to have so many people across the state of California and our country weigh in to what would be the best scientific approach to ensure that our communities keep healthy and safe around these sites,” Sen. Limón said.
Other states have imposed setbacks, but Sen. Limón still expects pushback from the industry over regulation.
CalGEM is accepting public comments on the draft rule for 60 days. Then it will analyze the proposed rule and submit it to the Office of Administrative Law.
In April, Gov. Newsom directed the state to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024 and requested the California Air Resources Board look for ways out of oil extraction by 2045.