By Sophia Bollag, SACRAMENTO BEE - CAPITOL ALERT

November 19, 2019

https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article23…

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced a crackdown on fracking projects and a moratorium on new oil wells that use high-pressure steam.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves shooting a high-pressure stream of water or another substance into rock to extract oil or gas.

Moving forward, pending applications for fracking projects will be reviewed by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Newsom administration’s Department of Conservation announced.

Next year, public health advocates will help develop new oil and gas regulations for the state, according to the department. The Newsom administration also announced that scientists and regulators will investigate recent oil leaks in Kern County near sites where high pressure steam has been used to extract oil.

“These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” Newsom said in a written statement.

The new regulations could include banning oil and gas activities near homes, schools, hospitals and parks, according to the Department of Conservation. In the meantime, the state will conduct an audit of its fracking approval process.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, questioned the need for further study and regulation, arguing “California’s environmental regulations already lead the world.”

“It is disappointing that the state would pursue additional studies when multiple state agencies already validate our protection of health, safety and the environment during production,” Reheis-Boyd said in a written statement. “Every barrel delayed or not produced in this state will only increase imports from more costly foreign sources that do not share our environmental and safety standards.”

Several environmental groups cheered Newsom’s decision.

“Gov. Newsom’s historic action protects Californians from some of the most dangerous and destructive oil-extraction techniques,” Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a written statement. “This marks the turning of the tide against the oil industry.”

Newsom’s announcement comes as the federal government attempts to expand fracking on federal lands in California. In October, the Trump administration finalized plans to open hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in Central California to oil and gas leasing.

Interest groups have been pressuring him to crack down on fracking for months, arguing it harms public health and hurts the environment.

Newsom said in July that he looked into putting a moratorium on fracking but learned he can’t do it through executive action. That month, Newsom fired California’s top oil and gas regulator after two advocacy groups, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker, alleged regulators at the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources own stock in oil companies they oversee.

In October, Newsom signed a law to rename the division the Geologic Energy Management Division.

Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker on Tuesday unveiled a website that maps where new oil and gas wells are approved in California while Newsom is governor. The groups say his administration is on track to approve more permits this year than former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration did last year.

Food & Water Action, which advocates for environmental policies, said Newsom’s actions haven’t gone far enough and urged the governor to ban fracking and stop approving new permits.

“The small steps announced today are in the right direction,” the group’s California director, Alexandra Nagy, said in a written statement. “But if we are really going to address fossil fuel-driven climate and health crises, much more is needed.”

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.