By Andrew Sheeler, SACRAMENTO BEE - CAPITOL ALERT
February 17, 2021
California would ban hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, by 2027, under a bill introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, also would prohibit the issuance of new permits for fracking, acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming and water and steam flooding beginning in 2022.
The bill's authors say that it is necessary to fight the existential threat of climate change.
"Extracting massive amounts of oil — particularly with destructive techniques such as fracking — is totally inconsistent with California's commitment to a sustainable climate future," Wiener said in a statement.
The proposal follows through on Gov. Gavin Newsom's call last year for the Legislature to send him a bill to ban fracking, but it's not guaranteed to reach his desk. Newsom at an event Wednesday morning said he not read the bill and declined to comment on it.
About 135,000 Californians are employed in the oil and gas industry and some Democratic lawmakers have questioned how quickly and effectively the state will help those workers find new jobs in a green economy.
Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, called the bill legally questionable, and said that it would kill thousands of union jobs that could not be replaced by the renewable energy sector.
"This also undermines California's environmental leadership by making our state even more reliant on environmentally inferior foreign oil that is sent by tanker ship to our crowded ports which have an impact on air quality," Zierman said in a statement.
Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents nearly half a million construction workers, said that a ban on fracking would lead California to become "a beached whale beholden to countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia to power our state."
"In a frenzied effort to ingratiate themselves to extremist coastal elite political agendas, Sens. Wiener and Limón are risking the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands blue-collar families and a doubling of the cost to get to work and school, all without a benefit to the environment," Hunter said in a statement.
But environmental groups commended the proposal. State fracking permits have ticked up during the Newsom administration despite the governor's calls to end the practice, according to the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.
Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said in an email to the Bee that the bill will be critical to protecting the public from the most dangerous types of oil extraction.
"The question is whether Democratic supermajorities finally translate into a major step forward to end oil production. Last time Jerry Brown couldn't or wouldn't get it done based on a very similar bill. Now it's up to Gavin Newsom to put his back into it and make it happen," Court said.
Aside from banning fracking, the bill would prevent new or modified permits for oil and gas production from operating within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, health care facilities or long-term care institutions by 2022.
Nearly 7.5 million Californians live within a mile of an oil or gas well, while 2 million live within a mile of a well that is operational, according to Wiener's office.
Finally, the bill would direct the California Geologic Energy Management Division, also known as CalGEM, to offer incentives to well remediation contractors to prioritize the hiring of unemployed oil and gas workers.
"These are big, much-needed steps to halt some of the oil industry's most damaging practices," said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, in a statement.
Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.