Gov. Newsom bans California fracking permits

Josue Torres
Oil Wells.Shutterstock

Gov. Gavin Newsom took steps on Friday to block new hydraulic fracturing licenses beginning in 2024, putting an end to the contentious oil extraction technology hated by environmental activists, and he asked regulators to consider phasing out all oil production in the state by 2045.

Newsom’s decision comes as a recall movement against him looks to be on the verge of qualifying for the ballot, and it represents a reversal of the governor’s past remarks that he lacked the administrative power to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, often known as fracking. According to an administration official, Newsom recently opted to utilize the state’s environmental regulatory powers after legislative attempts to impose the ban failed.

The state Department of Conservation, which governs California’s oil and gas sector, will implement the statewide moratorium on new fracking licenses administratively in 2024, allowing the agency time to design the new regulation.

Newsom has requested that the California Air Resources Board investigate ways to halt all oil production in the state by 2045. According to the governor’s office, the proposal would complement California’s drive to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045, including Newsom’s request to stop the sale of new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a statement issued on Friday. “As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children, I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

The air resources agency will analyze the economic, environmental, and health advantages and disadvantages of ending oil extraction under Newsom’s proposal, and his administration will also examine how to manage employment losses and the consequences on local economies as a result of the policy.

State trade union leaders, whose membership includes pipe fitters and electrical workers at California’s refineries and other sectors of the petroleum industry, issued a scathing response to the action, claiming that it would cost thousands of well-paying union jobs and devastate the economies of towns in California’s oil country, including Kern County.

“Every student, every firefighter and every resident of Kern County will be hurt by the governor’s political announcement today,” said John Spaulding of Bakersfield, executive secretary of the Building Trades Council for Kern, Inyo, and Mono counties. 

“We will work to oppose this effort for our membership, their families, our schools and our future. I have one question for Gavin Newsom: Are our jobs too dirty for you??”

According to Robbie Hunter, president of the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, Newsom’s actions will result in the loss of thousands of jobs, which will be exported to foreign countries, similar to what happened following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992.

“This announcement, steeped in politics rather than facts and science, will bring about the loss of tens of thousands of good, middle-class, blue-collar jobs and double the cost of gasoline and diesel, adding more weight to the backs of already struggling California families,” Hunter said.

For years, environmentalists have tried and failed to make fracking illegal in California. The prohibition declared on Friday is more symbolic than revolutionary: According to the Department of Conservation, fracking accounts for just 2% of the state’s oil output.

Nonetheless, Newsom’s actions on Friday conveyed a powerful statement to the country and the globe about California’s future, according to Jared Blumenfeld, the state’s secretary of environmental protection.

On Friday, environmental activists unanimously supported the bill, including politically powerful organizations like as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters. 

Other organizations, on the other hand, said Newsom’s plan to phase out oil production in the state needs to be hastened, arguing that vulnerable communities near oil fields and refineries cannot afford to wait until 2045 when they face major health risks right now.

In September, Newsom asked legislators to submit him legislation prohibiting the practice of oil extraction. That declaration was met with skepticism by senators, who argued that prohibiting the contentious practice would need more than just words from Newsom.

Last week, sweeping legislation to prohibit fracking and other “enhanced oil recovery” technologies, as well as to impose health and safety buffer zones around oil and gas wells, was defeated in the state Senate. R.L. Miller, leader of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus, chastised Newsom for not doing more to promote the measure, despite the fact that it went much beyond his call for a fracking moratorium.

The bill’s co-author, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), said from the start that the idea would have a big impact on California oil output and would encounter considerable challenges in Sacramento.

Wiener’s bill, as well as previous proposals for a fracking moratorium, have been met with fierce resistance from California’s oil sector, which has enormous political weight among Central Valley politicians, as well as trade unions, a key force within the Democratic Party. In 2014, the Legislature blocked a proposed fracking moratorium.

The Western States Petroleum Assnpresident .’s and CEO, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, criticized Newsom for ruling the state by “fiat” and said his actions will force the state to import oil from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and Iraq, because demand for gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products in California has not decreased.

Since assuming office, Newsom has faced pressure from powerful environmental organizations to stop new oil and gas drilling and totally phase out fossil fuel production in California, one of the nation’s leading producers of petroleum. 

However, the Democratic governor resisted, vowing a more cautious approach that would address the consequences on oil employees as well as California towns and counties that rely economically on the petroleum sector.

While Newsom’s proposal is just for a study on phasing out oil production, it is anticipated to shake California’s billion-dollar oil and gas sector, which is already in decline. California’s oil output peaked in early 1986, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and has subsequently fallen by more than two-thirds.

According to Clark Williams-Derry, an energy finance expert at the non-profit Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis, Newsom’s actions on Friday will merely be a “pinprick” to international oil firms like Chevron. However, they might have a significant effect on enterprises that operate nearly entirely in California, some of which are already suffering financially.

Newsom previously said that he lacked the power to prohibit fracking, which he restated in September when he called on California legislature to enact the moratorium.

“We simply don’t have that authority. That’s why we need the Legislature to approve it,” Newsom told reporters. “It is substantive, but it also is symbolic. We have to do more on the demand side, and that’s why today we think we’ve made a bold and big step in advancing that cause.”

The governor’s goal, according to Wade Crowfoot, California’s Natural Resources secretary, was to enforce the fracking prohibition via legislation, but that did not seemed probable.

According to Newsom spokesperson Erlon, the governor lacks the ability to prohibit fracking by executive order, but the Department of Conservation, via its Geologic Energy Management Division, may do so under the agency’s regulatory powers assigned by the Legislature to safeguard public health.

Regardless, the fracking moratorium is anticipated to be challenged in court.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, and chemicals deep down in order to recover oil and natural gas. 

According to the US Geological Survey, the environmental implications of oil production include chemical spills, groundwater pollution, and water consumption.

According to the Western States Petroleum Assn., California has 26 million automobiles with internal combustion engines, and the oil sector supports over 368,000 blue-collar employment in the state.

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