Newsom’s pledge to ban fracking was talk, no action

A bill that would have banned hydraulic fracturing and dramatically reduced oil and gas drilling in California died Tuesday, in its first-ever committee hearing. It wasn’t a surprise. Previous bills to limit oil and gas production, especially near homes and schools, have failed in the legislature in the face of fierce opposition from the fossil fuel industry and unions.

But this year was meant to be different. Last fall, in the midst of a record year for wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom said: “This is one hell of a climate emergency. He pledged to accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and counter the effects of global warming.

With great fanfare, Newsom came out with a large-scale executive order reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels. This included his commitment to work with the Legislature this year to ban new licenses for hydraulic fracturing, or hydraulic fracturing, by 2024 to protect communities living near oil and gas drilling sites as well as reduce the risk of oil and gas drilling. state production of fossil fuels.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pulling a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to extract oil and natural gas. The practice is only used in about 2% of the state’s oil production, but it is highly controversial due to the potential to increase air pollution, contaminate drinking water supplies, and trigger disasters. chasms near well sites.

Newsom’s fracking promise sparked hope it was the start of a larger movement to curb fossil fuel extraction, but also skepticism that the governor would actually follow. Supporters urged Newsom to be much more aggressive in cutting oil production; if the governor was so determined to phase out hydraulic fracturing, why not pursue the ban himself with executive action? Instead, he sent the matter back to the Legislature, where Democrats are notoriously divided over oil and gas policy.

Some environmentalists have predicted that Newsom’s pledge will turn out to be an empty promise. They were right.

The main Senate proposal to eliminate hydraulic fracturing was Senate Bill 467 by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Monique Limón of Santa Barbara, a bill that would have banned new fracking permits from next year. He ended unceremoniously on Tuesday at the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where he failed to secure the five votes needed to stay alive.

Part of the challenge was that the SB 467 went farther and faster to curb drilling than Newsom probably expected. Nonetheless, it appears Newsom has done nothing to help the bill survive or evolve into something more politically feasible.

The bill would have banned the new permits not only for hydraulic fracturing, but for all “enhanced oil recovery” methods that inject water, steam and additional substances into the ground to extract the oil, from January 1, 2022. It would have banned such extraction entirely by 2027. It would have affected 80 to 95% of oil production in California, ending most of the industry. The bill was recently amended to delay the complete elimination of injection methods until 2035, but that was not enough to convince more lawmakers.

The bill would also have banned oil or gas wells from operating within 2,500 feet of a home, school or health care facility, effective next year. A similar effort was stalled in the Legislature last year. Despite this, a growing number of cities and states have adopted buffer zones to reduce the health and safety risks associated with oil drilling. The Newsom administration is considering whether to impose a statewide minimum buffer zone, but this proposed regulation has been delayed and delayed.

Perhaps the authors of SB 467 were too ambitious, despite the obvious need to reduce production and consumption of fossil fuels to better protect communities living near oil and gas industry operations and to help slow the downturn. climate change. The state is the country’s seventh largest oil producer, with more than 180 oil and gas fields. It’s unrealistic to think that California could essentially shut down production in a few years without a significant impact on communities that depend on the oil and gas industry for tax revenue and well-paying union jobs.

California needs a comprehensive plan to phase out oil production, not just hydraulic fracturing. It means bringing together leaders from the world of work, industry and the environmental community to chart the way forward so that the people and communities who have lived with or depend on oil and gas production are not left behind. account. Discussions have already started through the Roadmap for the just transition, but there is still a lot of work and negotiation to be done. California doesn’t have time to make empty promises.

About Julius Southworth

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