Los Angeles, CA—As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded, new oil well permits under Gov. Gavin Newsom rose 7.8% in the first quarter of 2020 through April 4, compared to the first quarter of 2019, Consumer Watchdog and FrackTrackerAlliance reported today. The Newsom Administration issued 1,623 permits during the first quarter of 2020. It also approved 24 fracking permits after a nine-month moratorium. The total number of permits issued under Newsom since he took office in January 2019 is 6,168.
The permit numbers and locations are posted and updated on an interactive map at the website: NewsomWellWatch.com
“This is terrible news during an unprecedented pandemic,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker. “Now that scientists have established a correlation between air pollution caused by the production and combustion of fossil fuels and greater susceptibility to death from Covid-19, issuing zero permits would have been the right thing to do. On top of that, experts tell us that Californians could be liable for $9 billion in cleanup costs for existing oil and gas wells that are or will be eventually abandoned, so we should not be greenlighting even more wells.”
The California Geologic Energy Management Division, a branch of the Department of Conservation, issues two main categories of permits: permits to drill new oil and gas wells and permits to rework existing wells. Permits are issued for different types of well activities, including “Enhanced Oil Recovery Wells” (EOR) that use cyclic steaming and water flooding to dislodge oil. (See Table.)
Table: First Quarter Comparison 2019 to 2020
Courtesy of FracTracker Alliance Analysis of Department of Conservation Data
The groups found that permits for drilling new wells rose 27.2%, while permits for reworking existing wells fell 13.4% in a sign that oil companies are literally scraping the barrel.
About 10% of permits issued during the first quarter of 2020 have been issued within 2,500 feet of homes, hospitals, schools, daycares or nursing facilities. This is similar but slightly lower than the average for all of 2019 (12.2%).
“Regardless of where oil and gas wells and stimulations are permitted, near or close to Frontline Communities, these wells all degrade the regional air quality of the San Joaquin Valley. The San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country.” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FracTracker.
“In addition to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) being both air toxics and carcinogens that negatively impact frontline communities, these pollutants are precursors to the regional ozone and smog pollution that causes health impacts such as asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, and negative birth outcomes.”
According to the U.S. EPA, oil and gas production is a main contributor of VOCs and smog-forming nitrogen oxides in the San Joaquin Valley. Beyond the Valley, the American Lung Association recently assigned 62% of California’s 58 counties Ds and Fs for air quality. See: http://www.stateoftheair.org
In 2019, the number of permits issued under Newsom reached virtually the same level as the number issued in 2018 by big oil booster Gov. Jerry Brown during his last year in office—despite Newsom’s firing of the state Oil & Gas Supervisor last July.
At that time, the groups reported eight oil regulators were invested up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil companies they regulated, permits for new production wells had risen by a runaway 77% over the first six months of the year before and that fracking permits had doubled, a fact that angered Newsom who campaigned on a platform of support for banning the practice.
Newsom quietly put a moratorium on fracking permits pending an independent third-party review by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory while the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opened an investigation into two of the eight regulators for financial conflicts of interest.
One of the two regulators under FPPC investigation was invested up to $100,000 in Exxon, a parent of Aera Energy, which received the lion’s share of permits in 2019, and another was invested up to $100,000 in Chevron, yet another major permit recipient.
The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is now reviewing another 282 fracking permits. The lab was hired to confirm that the permits met state regulatory standards, which have a low bar and virtually no thorough environmental review.
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