HSE & Sustainability

California Oil Regulators Delay Health, Safety Rules Again

California regulators missed another deadline for releasing new health and safety rules requested by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In this 18 May 2021 photo, apartment buildings rise behind pump jacks operating at the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles.
Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP.

It’s been a year and a half since California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed oil regulators to consider new health and safety measures to protect people living near oil and gas drilling sites.

But those regulators missed another deadline on 21 June for releasing the rules, frustrating environmental advocates who say communities can’t wait any longer for change. The California Geologic Energy Management Division, known as CalGEM, hasn’t set a new timeline for the rules, which Newsom originally mandated be out last December. Regulators delayed but said they would come out in the spring.

California is the nation’s seventh-largest oil-producing state and has no statewide rules on how far oil and gas wells must be from where people live, work, or go to school. While it has a reputation as a climate leader, other oil-producing states, including Pennsylvania and Colorado, already have such regulations. Even Texas bans wells within 467 ft of a property line.

Advocacy groups point to studies that show living near drilling sites can worsen a slew of health risks, including respiratory problems and birth defects.

“It is clear CalGEM does not respect the urgency needed to prevent further damage and inequity in our communities,” Cesar Aguirre, a community organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network, said in a statement.

The group is one of dozens in the Last Chance Alliance that sent Newsom an open letter calling for him to immediately mandate a 2,500-ft buffer zone between wells and places like homes and schools and to issue a moratorium on all new drilling permits in those zones. Newsom has previously declined to impose such a mandate in favor of the agency rulemaking process.

“Your leadership can deliver equitable and effective relief today,” the letter says.

The process is taking longer than expected because of “complex subject matter within and beyond our previous regulatory experience,” David Shabazian, director of the California Department of Conservation, said in a statement. His department oversees CalGEM.

“We continue to work closely with our state partners and the public health experts panel to thoroughly examine and assess impacts across the board so that we develop the most well-informed, legally durable rule possible to protect communities and workers from the impacts of oil extraction activities,” he said.

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