By Brendan Cole, NEWSWEEK
October 5, 2021
Energy industry watchdogs have called on California governor Gavin Newsom to stop issuing oil permits in state waters, as the cleanup from a spill in the south of the state continues.
Local wildlife habitats and beaches have been hit hard by the estimated 100,000-gallon oil leak about five miles off Huntington Beach in Orange County.
Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County and said in a statement on Monday that his state would "mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment."
He said in a statement that the incident was "a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment."
However, with the cleanup operation ongoing, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance criticized Newsom over oil permits issued and for not protecting vulnerable communities from oil operations.
"Governor Newsom has issued 138 permits for wells located offshore," Kyle Ferrar, Western program coordinator for the FracTracker Alliance, said in a statement. It said this included five new drilling permits and 133 permits to perform work on existing offshore wells.
The groups also said on Monday that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) is nine months late in delivering Newsom a rule which would set a barrier between oil operations and vulnerable communities.
Consumer advocate Liza Tucker said that the Huntingdon spill "makes it clear like never before that there is no such thing as safe proximity to oil drilling."
She called on Newsom to stop issuing offshore and onshore permits "immediately" and "set a barrier of 2,500 feet between vulnerable communities and oil operations if his own oil and gas supervisor won't."
Tucker said that while new oil drilling leases in state waters up to two miles from shore was prohibited in 1969 after a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, "new drilling and other work on wells in existing leases in state waters was never banned."
Over two million people in California live within half a mile of a well and another seven million are within a mile, according to redgreenandblue.org.
It noted that California was one of a few major oil-producing states without a statewide setback although a draft rule was due by December 31, 2020.
The watchdog groups said that there should be consequences for this deadline not being met by Newsom's oil regulator, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, who Tucker said was now "278 days late."
"The fact that no rule has been proposed on a setback and Gov. Newsom has not used his executive authority to mandate one to protect public health is outrageous," Tucker said. Newsweek has contacted Newsom's office for comment.
The tracker website Newsom Well Watch showed that 9,014 total permits had been approved by Newsom since January 2019 when he took office, although the 1,019 permits in the first six months of this year was 64 percent less than in the same time the previous year.
Meanwhile, in his statement on Monday, Newsom said he was "a national leader on efforts to phase out the use of fossil fuels," and that he had "directed the California Air Resources Board to analyze pathways to phase out oil extraction by 2045."