Two Democratic state senators in California on Wednesday introduced legislation to ban various well stimulation technologies, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), along with establishing a 2,500-foot setback for wells from the population.

Its authors — state Sens. Scott Wiener (San Francisco) and Monique Limon (Santa Barbara) — characterize Senate Bill (SB) 467 as being a boost for both climate change mitigation and public health, while industry sources pushed back hard questioning the legal and economic viability of the proposed measures, contending they would kill thousands of good paying jobs.

There are 162,182 oil and gas wells statewide, including 32,957 active wells, according to the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM). Among the active wells, 2,196 involve fracking, and another 24 use acid treatment; the vast majority are cyclic steaming (14,470), or water (4,356) and steam (4,073) flooding.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order last year on zero-emission vehicles included a call for an end to issuing new fracking permits by 2024, and he asked lawmakers to send him legislation on the issue. “The Newsom administration has met with key members of the legislature on the topic and looks forward to more discussions,” said Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokesperson for the state Natural Resources Agency, which includes CalGEM.

Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), said the legislation threatens to “undermine California’s environmental leadership by making the state more reliant on environmentally inferior foreign oil. Shutting down energy production under the toughest regulations on the planet will devastate the economies of oil-producing parts of the state such as the Central Valley.”

The authors said they intend to halt the issuance or renewal of permits for fracking, acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming, and water or steam flooding beginning Jan. 1 next year. SB 467 then prohibits these extraction methods entirely by Jan. 1, 2027.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said passage of SB 467 would lead to a total production ban in California.

“When we look past political rhetoric and to the facts, it is clear the last thing we can afford to do is shut down oil and gas production. It’s detrimental to the well-being of our people, our economic recovery and attaining the truly sustainable energy future that all of us want.”

SB 467 addresses what lawmakers consider an environmental justice issue of lower income communities increasingly being impacted by oil and gas operations. Nearly 7.5 million Californians live within a mile of an oil or gas well, and 2 million people live within a mile of an active well, according to Wiener and Limon, who included the setback requirements in their bill.

CalGEM is currently considering protective setbacks to separate oil and gas extraction from homes, schools and other sensitive areas as part of new rules being developed to address health and safety issues. They will be released in draft form this spring, Lien-Mager said. 

Last year Assembly Bill 345 failed passage in the state Senate to establish minimum distances between wells and homes, playgrounds and schools. Originally proposed in 2019, the bill was criticized by among others the state’s largest producer, California Resources Corp.

“Climate change is not a theoretical future threat — it’s an existential threat to our communities and is having devastating impacts right now,” Wiener said.

To mitigate some of the possible adverse jobs impact from the legislation, SB 467 includes a mandate to CalGEM to identify jobless oil and gas workers and offer incentives for well remediation contractors to hire them.

“CalGEM has instituted a rigorous review process for hydraulic fracturing and continues to strengthen oversight and enforcement in line with the governor’s commitment to protect communities as the state reduces its reliance on fossil fuels,” Lien-Mager said.

Industry representatives contend that California is already in an economic disaster because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so the state doesn’t need another blow to its economy, which is what they maintain SB 467 would do.

“We can’t get businesses open and people back to work or even figure out how to pay unemployment benefits to millions,” said WSPA’s Reheis-Boyd, calling SB 467 an example of an ongoing “disconnect between policymakers in Sacramento and everyday Californians who do the real work to move our state forward.”