Los Angeles, CA —As the LA City Council votes today to ban oil and gas wells, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported that Governor Newsom has approved 10,212 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019. The total is nearly identical to the number of permits Governor Jerry Brown approved in his first three years.
According to the latest analysis by FracTracker Alliance of permits approved through December 31, 2021, and posted by Consumer Watchdog at www.Newsomwellwatch.org, the number of permit approvals fell from 2020. Nevertheless, Newsom’s number is nipping on the heels of Brown’s 10,268 permits dispensed in his first three years in office. Brown ultimately approved 31,545 wells during his eight years in office.
“We are pleased to see that Governor Newsom’s oil regulators are approving fewer permits,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Energy Project Director Liza Tucker. “But the Administration should not have crossed that 10,000-permit threshold and needs to ban any permits for any drilling if we are to protect the public and the planet—starting with environmental justice communities.”
Overall, permit approvals for drilling new oil and gas wells fell 73% over last year. (See Table 1 below). But permit application submissions from oil and gas operators for new drilling permits also dropped 44% in 2021, according to FracTracker Alliance analysis of state data.
“The decrease in the number of new drilling permits issued in 2021 versus 2020 is a consequence of the downturn in the market and has nothing to do with policy decisions,” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FracTracker Alliance. “This is why we need Governor Newsom to take a leadership role, so that our health in California is not determined by the pressures of an extractive capitalist market.”
Governor Newsom has issued a ban on fracking as of 2024, and his regulators have begun denying fracking permits, said Tucker. Fracking permits fell 90% over last year, the data showed. But fracking produces only a small portion of the state’s oil and gas. Nevertheless, permit approvals for cyclic steaming, steam, water flooding and other enhanced techniques more commonly used to coax oil out of the ground also fell.
FracTracker Analysis Of California Geologic Energy Management Permit Data
As of December 31, 2021, oil regulators had issued a total of 542 permits for drilling new oil and gas wells, down 73% over 2020. Regulators issued 1,519 permits to rework existing wells, down 13% from the year before. Overall, California dispensed a total of 2,061 permits, down 45% over last year.
According to an LA Times editorial this week, a rule proposed by Newsom’s oil regulators last year banning the drilling of new wells within a buffer zone of 3,200 feet between communities and oil drilling operations falls short by allowing production to continue from existing wells. “Before releasing final rules later this year, regulators should heed the advice of scientific advisors and require a phaseout of existing oil and gas operations within the 3,200-foot buffer,” the Times editorialized.
Despite the draft setback rule, oil regulators dispensed at least 124 new drilling permits and 457 rework permits within that setback zone just in 2021, said FracTracker’s Ferrar. “These permit approvals threaten the health and lives of frontline community members. All new drilling and rework permitting within the 3,200-foot setback zone must stop while the draft setback rules are being considered,” he said.
Of note, FracTracker Alliance also reports that CalGEM has not issued any new drilling permits within the proposed 3,200-foot setback zone since Newsom announced the draft rule in late October. Some seven million Californians live within a mile of a well, and two million within half a mile.
“Science shows that nearby oil and gas drilling cause harm to people, including cancer, liver and kidney damage, neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, low birth weights and birth defects,” said Tucker. “Newsom needs to stop issuing permits for new wells in environmental justice communities immediately and give us a fast track phase-out plan for everywhere else.”
– 30 –