Issuance of health and safety rules near California oil and gas sites delayed yet again

Stakeholders call for immediate action from government

Issuance of health and safety rules near California oil and gas sites delayed yet again

Oil regulators have once again missed a deadline on the issuance of new health and safety measures to protect people living near oil and gas drilling sites in California. 

The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) missed the deadline set on Monday, June 21, 2021, a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed them to issue health and safety measures to protect the public. 

CalGEM hasn’t set a new timeline for the rules, which Newsom originally mandated to be out last December. Regulators delayed but said they would come out in the spring, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

How long?

This has brought on disappointment for stakeholders.

“This delay is sadly unsurprising. For communities like ours that live in these conditions every day, we are forgotten and never prioritized. We are told our lives and well-being do not matter as much as their political ambitions,” said Anabel Marquez, president of the Committee for a Better Shafter. “The public supports this, scientific evidence supports this, and we continue to see that our loved ones are dying. We have seen both the California legislature and the Governor continue to fail us and view us as expendable. How long will we have to wait for our lives to mean as much as theirs?”

In August 2020 in Canada, oil and gas company Kelt Exploration (LNG) Ltd. was fined $88,149.58 following an explosion during which two workers were seriously injured.

“How much longer are our communities supposed to wait? This delay is just another in a long line that reinforces California’s legacy of environmental racism and injustice,” said Kobi Naseck, coalition coordinator, Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISION). “VISION will keep fighting for setbacks and to protect all residents from the possibility of Big Oil setting up shop across the street to pollute our homes and schools.”

Meanwhile, Last Chance Alliance – an alliance of more than 750 public health, environmental justice, climate, and labor organizations – sent a letter to Newsom, urging immediate action.

“On behalf of the below signed organization and our hundreds of thousands of California supporters, we urge you to take immediate action to protect frontline communities and all Californians directly threatened by the impacts of living, working, or learning near oil wells,” read part of the letter.

The group noted that it has been almost a decade since the California Legislature commissioned a study that recommended the state institute public health and safety buffer zones. 

California is the U.S.’s seventh-largest oil-producing state and has no statewide rules on how far oil and gas wells must be from where people live, work or go to school, according to the Los Angeles Times report. Meanwhile, other oil-producing states, including Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas, already have such regulations.

Immediate action urged

Last Chance Alliance also urged Newsom to direct CalGEM to issue a public health rule that includes at least a 2,500-foot setback between new and existing fossil fuel operations and all sensitive sites.

It also wants the governor to issue a moratorium on all new oil or gas permits within 2,500 feet of homes, schools and other sensitive sites until the rulemaking process has delivered equal or stronger protections for new and existing permits.

“Frontline communities cannot afford more delays. Your leadership can deliver equitable and effective relief today. By directing CalGEM to instate setbacks of at least 2,500 feet, you can ensure the forthcoming public health protections are meaningful and effective.”

In December 2019, the PetroLMI division of Energy Safety Canada launched Experience the Energy: Take the Tour, a first-of-its-kind virtual reality tour of Canada’s oil and gas worksites that can help workers learn about safety at work.