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CA Dangerously Close To Approving 10,000 Oil Drilling Permits since Newsom Assumed Office; Groups Demand Gov. Deliver On Putting Oil Drilling Into Rear View Mirror

Wed, 10/06/2021 - 13:10
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Oil Spill Slider

Los Angeles, CA — Governor Newsom’s oil regulators have approved 9,728 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019, according to a new analysis of permits approved through October 1, 2021and posted at www.NewsomWellWatch.org by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance.  The groups said Newsom should immediately cease approval of more oil permits to avoid hitting the 10,000 mark.

As of October 1, 2021, there have been a total of 150 reported permits issued for offshore wells since January 1, 2019. Five of these permits were for new drilling and the remaining 145 for reworks (including sidetracks and deepening operations).  Half of the total were issued for idle wells that should be plugged and properly abandoned to reduce the risk of blowouts, leaks, and other accidents.  Over the first three quarters of 2021 there have been 17 offshore permits issued.  

In remarks at press conferences this week, against the backdrop of the Orange County oil spill, Newsom told reporters that California was leading the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combatting the climate crisis. “…It’s time once and for all to disabuse ourselves that this has to be part of our future,” he said of drilling. “This is part of our past.” In response to calls to ban new drilling, Newsom said, “Banning new drilling is not complicated. The deeper question is how do you transition and still protect the workforce?”

“Governor Newsom needs to prioritize ending oil drilling now rather than just talking about it,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker.  “His Administration is 280 days late on a rule to end oil drilling near communities and continues to approve offshore oil permits despite railing against offshore oil drilling. Oil workers will have plenty of work plugging thousands of idle and marginally producing wells and restoring the environment for a long time to come.”

“Instead of permitting new wells we should be decommissioning idle and marginally producing wells, including offshore,” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FracTracker Alliance. “A third of offshore wells are currently idle and many more are marginally producing while half of the offshore wells that received rework permits are currently ide. Overall, we have 70,000 idle and actively producing wells on shore and off.  Idle wells on shore should also be plugged, and properly abandoned, because of the risk of harm to the environment from leaks and failures of well casings and aging cement. There are too many risks associated with this aging infrastructure.”

Newsom’s record to date on oil drilling permits and the protection of public health and the environment includes:

•Approving a total of 9,728 oil drilling permits from January 1, 2019 until October 1, 2021.
•Approving 150 offshore drilling permits in state waters since January 1, 2019. Of those permits, five were for new wells and the rest were for reworking existing wells. Right now, 19 oil and gas leases in California’s coastal waters allow drilling up to three miles off the state shoreline and represent 1,200 active wells.
•Approving 17 offshore oil and gas permits in the first nine months of 2021.  These permits were to rework existing wells.
•Setting a December 3, 2020 deadline for his oil and gas supervisor to propose a barrier between vulnerable communities and oil drilling operations. California has no barrier when Los Angeles County is the largest urban oil field in the United States. His oil and gas supervisor is now 280 days late in setting a barrier and Newsom has taken no action. More than two million Californians live within half a mile of a well, while seven million live within a mile. 
Though California permit approvals are approaching 10,000 since his taking office, Newsom’s track record has been better in 2021 for permit approvals, which are falling over the course of the last year, according to the Newsomwellwatch.com website operated by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance.  The site, which tracks all permits, shows a drop of 53% in all oil and gas permit approvals issued in the first nine months of 2021 over last year.  Drilling permits for new production wells dropped 73% over last year, while permits to fix wells dropped 27%.  See Table.

Table 1

Courtesy of FracTracker Alliance based on California Geologic Energy Management Division Permit Data. EOR wells are wells using enhanced oil recovery techniques such as risky cyclic steam and steam injection practices. Well rework permits are for re-drilling, repairing, and adding boreholes to existing wells.

The drop in permits continues the downward trend.  In the first six months of 2021, permit approvals to drill new oil wells or rework existing ones fell by 64%. In addition, Newsom has banned fracking as of 2024 and his regulators, after flip-flopping in recent months, have started consistently denying fracking permits. Fracking permit approvals fell to only a dozen in the first nine months, down 75%. But permit approvals for abandoning wells—plugging them—fell slightly in the first nine months when they should be rising. 

In 2020, however, California regulators more than doubled the dispensing of permits to drill new oil and gas production wells, issuing permits for more than 1,700 of them.  See: https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/newsom-administration-doubles-new-oil-and-gas-production-well-permits-misses-deadline

“Market factors often influence the amount of permits the oil industry applies for and the pandemic cratered demand,” said Tucker. “Against the backdrop of this devastating Orange County oil spill, this is the seminal moment for Gov. Newsom to take action. Communities are taking their own action and not waiting around.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has passed two motions to begin to phase out oil drilling. Culver City also voted to phase out drilling and clean up wells in the Inglewood Oil Field within its borders by 2026. The Inglewood Oil Field is 18th largest oil field in the state and the second-most productive in the Los Angeles Basin. In addition, the City of Los Angeles is currently considering zoning regulations to phase out oil drilling in the face of a five-year grassroots campaign led by communities affected by oil drilling and environmental advocates. 

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