The Bakersfield Californian – Oil Drilling All But Dries Up As Well Rework Permits Rise


Oil drilling permits have slowed to a trickle in California lately, even as approvals for well repair jobs are up significantly from a year earlier, according to second-quarter data that highlights tensions between the industry, the Newsom administration and groups pushing to end in-state petroleum production altogether.

State data analyzed by FracTracker Alliance shows the California Geologic Energy Management Division issued just six new drilling permits between the start of April and the end of June. That’s 93% fewer than CalGEM approved during the second quarter of 2022.

Meanwhile, permits for reworks — well-deepening projects, sidetracks and other jobs known as “workovers” — increased by 25% during the same period to reach 754, according to FracTracker. More than 90% of those permits were issued for work on “stripper” wells that produce less than 15 barrels per day.

The findings have put CalGEM back in the hot seat as the oil industry called on the agency to ease up on new drilling permits at the same time that a prominent environmental advocacy group asked the state to quit allowing well repairs requested by oil companies, especially those with stripper wells.

On Monday, CalGEM spokesman Jacob Roper attributed the permitting slowdown to factors including the ongoing judicial review of a lawsuit alleging Kern County’s oil and gas project review system violates the California Environmental Quality Act. Because of the review, the county has not been able to process an application for oil field drilling since January, leaving such work to the state.

Roper noted California has the strongest oil and gas regulations in the country and that CalGEM weighs applications in accordance with state standards.

“CalGEM continues to carefully evaluate permits on a case-by-case basis to ensure protection of public health, safety and the environment while working to help California achieve its climate change and clean energy goals,” Roper wrote.

He pointed out that well reworks proceed under a different system that’s responsive to the need for repairs or modifications. Roper also noted the division expects to fill 13 new positions created by the state to help CalGEM comply with CEQA.

The state’s oil industry, for which slow oil permitting has been an almost constant concern under the leadership of Gov. Gavin Newsom, maintains that slowing down drilling leads directly to greater imports that quench California’s continuing thirst for crude oil.

CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association said CalGEM is sitting on 1,400 permit applications even as the state is inundated with a surge of foreign oil.

“Extremists want to put Californians out of work and instead increase imports from Saudi Arabia and the Amazon Rainforest, which is precisely what is happening today,” Zierman said by email Monday.

Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy nonprofit that publicized FracTracker’s permitting data, noted in a news release that almost a third of the wells approved for reworks in the second quarter were classified as stripper wells.

Consumer advocate Liza Tucker, speaking for the nonprofit in a news release Thursday, bemoaned the increase in reworks.

“The state is simply helping the oil industry cut costs by issuing permits to tinker with unproductive wells rather than making them plug and remediate those wells that endanger the public and environment by emitting toxic compounds,” she stated.

“The state should issue no more oil permits,” Tucker added. “Instead, oil companies should have to plug these wells.”

Of the half dozen new drilling permits CalGEM approved in the second quarter, all but one was for oil field projects in Kern County.

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