California regulators on Thursday launched a sweeping proposal to prohibit new wells and facilities within a 3,200-foot exclusion area, or setback, from homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other “sensitive” locations.

California production

As proposed by the California Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), pollution controls also would be required for existing wells and facilities within the 3,200-foot setback area. 

“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 with the draft 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.

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“We are committed to protecting public health, the economy and our environment as we transition to a greener future that reckons with the realities of the climate crisis we’re all facing.”

The setback is designed to “protect public health,” CalGEM noted. 

A 15-member public health expert panel selected by the University of California, Berkeley, and Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy helped prepare the draft.

“The panel concluded that when oil and gas developments are within 3,200 feet, there is a strong connection to higher rates of adverse birth outcomes, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and heart disease, among other health impacts,” CalGEM noted. “The panel’s research supports both moving oil production farther away from communities in combination with pollution controls for operating wells.”

Newsom in 2019 had directed CalGEM to strengthen health and safety protections for communities near oil and gas facilities as part of its updated mission to protect public health, safety and the environment. 

During a pre-rulemaking engagement process, CalGEM said it held 10 public meetings and received more than 40,000 public comments. The panel also reviewed epidemiological studies relevant to oil and gas production and completed the initial phase of its work in October.

When Would California Ban Drilling?

Newsom has called for the state to stop issuing drilling permits by 2024 as it moves to phase out oil and natural gas extraction by 2045. New sales of gasoline-powered vehicles are slated to end by 2035.

Newsom’s office said “for the first time in state history, the number of permits to permanently and safely close wells far exceeds the number of permits for new wells in existing oil fields.”

California oil production has been on the decline, dropping about 65% since its peak in 1985, CalGEM said. 

“By creating a framework to end harmful oil drilling near communities, California is prioritizing front-line residents most impacted by harmful pollution while working towards a healthy equitable transition,” said Executive Director Darryl Molina Sarmiento of Communities for a Better Environment. 

“We will continue to engage with the governor’s office in the next few months to secure a final health and safety setback regulation at CalGEM that offers strong protections for front-line neighborhoods impacted by oil drilling,” he said. “The fight isn’t over. We need drilling operations phased out in our communities, with robust plans put in place to protect workers and communities.”CalGEM is accepting public comments by email on the draft for 60 days, followed by an economic analysis. Comments also may be mailed by Dec. 21 to CalGEM, 801 K St., Sacramento, CA, ATTN: Public Health Regulations.