By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Oil producers announced Thursday they have launched the signature gathering process to stop a new oil well bill, a measure they call a “political war on California’s energy workers and producers.”
Independent oil producers and workers are spearheading an effort to place a referendum on the 2024 ballot to repeal a law requiring 3,200-foot setbacks between new oil wells and certain areas.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1137 last month. It prohibits the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) from approving most permits within a “health protection zone” – defined as 3,200 feet within a “sensitive receptor,” including homes, schools, healthcare facilities, dorms and businesses.
The bill was heralded by supporters as a measure that will protect public health, as proximity to oil wells and gas extraction sites “poses known significant health risks due to increased air pollution and threats to drinking water quality,” according to a bill analysis. The bill’s authors estimate there are 5.5 million Californians who live within a mile of one or more oil and gas wells.
The measure met with swift opposition from the oil industry, who filed a proposed referendum just days after Newsom signed the bill into law. Proponents of the petition say the law “threatens to further increase California’s already high gas prices” by increasing reliance on imported foreign oil “that contributes greater greenhouse gas emissions.”
“This referendum will allow California voters to better control the prices they pay at the pump by removing barriers to boost the supply of our homegrown oil production,” said Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, which is spearheading this effort.
Mr. Zierman added that oil producers have worked with the legislature to “ensure we have the strictest environmental regulations in the nation and world,” asserting there is “no scientific justification” for the 3,200 feet setback law.
“As Governor Newsom has implored us over the past two years, we must ‘follow the science’ and use evidence-based data when enacting policy, something that SB 1137 fails to do,” Mr. Zierman said.
Proponents of the “Stop the Energy Shutdown” petition say they have already raised over $8.1 million to support their efforts, but there is still a long way to go before the measure qualifies for the 2024 ballot.
As previously reported by The Center Square, proponents have 90 days from the statute’s enactment to collect and submit over 623,000 signatures to potentially qualify the measure for the 2024 ballot, where it will ultimately be left up to the voters to decide on the law. The bill was signed into law on Sept. 16, so proponents have until mid-December to submit signatures.
Daniel Villaseñor, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told The Center Square in a statement, “California won’t go back to the days of letting greedy oil companies pollute our communities.”
“Big polluters are poisoning our communities, and this law promises to protect the health of over 2 million Californians – preventing new oil wells near schools and neighborhoods, and requiring pollution controls on existing oil wells,” Mr. Villaseñor said. “The big polluters are trying to overturn this law to protect their billions in profits. Clean energy jobs already outnumber fossil fuel jobs by 6-to-1, and the climate package that Gov. Newsom just signed into law will create another 4 million jobs while reducing demand in petroleum by over 90%.”