CA Senate approves legislation to create 3200-ft. health and safety setbacks around oil wells

By Dan Bacher | 

Despite the millions of dollars Big Oil spends on lobbying the California Legislature and contributing to legislators every year, the Senate late last night by a vote of 25 to 10, approved Senate Bill  1137 to create 3200-foot setbacks around new and reworked oil and gas wells after it had already passed the Assembly on Tuesday.

Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) and Senator Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) introduced the legislation on August 25 to establish health and safety buffer zones and protect the most pollution-burdened communities in the state from the dangers of oil and gas operations.

The introduction of SB 1137 came after Governor Gavin Newsom on August 12 asked the State Legislature to end neighborhood oil drilling as part of a climate package he was trying to get approved before the end of the year’s legislative session today.

“We did it!! With a little extra on top!” said Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) in a tweet right after the vote. #SB1173 passed!! On to the Governor’s Desk! 🍃 yasssss!!! 👏🏽”

“Big congrats to our EJ advocates for their tireless work in getting this done! They made this happen 💪🏽We did it!!” 

In another tweet, she stated, “I am truly overjoyed & thankful to all the strong community advocates & my colleagues in the Legislature who supported #SB1137 to #EndNeighborhoodDrilling & helped us achieve tonight's successful vote.”   

“Passage of this monumental bill is a tribute to the tireless frontline communities who have fought for their lives against fossil fuel polluters for years,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, in a press statement. “California has more work to do on climate and environmental justice, but these protections are a huge step toward a healthier, safer, more sustainable future.” 

CEJA (California Environmental Justice Action) also tweeted about the victory: 

“After three years of legislative efforts and decades of organizing, California may finally end neighborhood oil drilling. This victory is shared by @VoicesCA @CCEJN @PSRLA @CRPE_EJ @cbecal @CenValAir & *every* person who took action for this bill - THANK YOU!”   

SB 1137 will mandate a 3,200-foot health and safety buffer zone between new and reworked oil and gas  wells and sensitive land uses, including schools, childcare centers, community resource centers,  residential homes and live-in housing, and hospitals, according to the two Senators.

The bill prohibits the California  Geological Energy Management Division (CalGEM) from “approving the drilling, re drilling, or significant  alteration of any oil and gas well within this ‘health protection zone.’”

SB 1137 will also require oil and  gas facility operators in these protection zones to implement strict pollution controls and response plans to protect the health of over 2 million Californians currently living within 3,200 feet of an existing oil well, according to the Senators.

The bill also includes the following provisions:
  • Requires all operators of oil or gas wells to develop a leak detection and response plan for their wells and attendance production facilities in the health protection zones by dates specified. Specify requirements for the leak detection and response plan.
  • Requires CalGEM to hold at least two public workshops to inform operators and the public about leak detection systems and response plans.
  • Requires, commencing July 1, 2023, and every six months thereafter, the Supervisor of CalGem to report to the Legislature on the leak detection and response plans.

Until the Governor signs the bill and it goes into effect, California will still be one of two oil and gas producing states — the other is Alaska — that doesn’t mandate health and safety setbacks around homes, schools, child care centers, hospitals and other facilities. Colorado, North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania and other oil and gas producing states required minimum setbacks around oil and gas wells.   

“This is a historic moment in California history and I am beyond grateful to lead this effort with my  colleague Senator Gonzalez,” said Senator Limón (D-Santa Barbara) upon the introduction of the bill. “For too long our dependency on  the oil industry has impacted the health and safety of California families, especially our children and  communities who live near oil and gas wells.” 

The Western States Petroleum Association and Big Oil fiercely opposed this bill, as they did two previous bills to require health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells.  

The California Chamber of Commerce on August 25 added SB 1137, as amended on August 24, 2022,  to their “Job Killer list.”

“SB 1137 will completely undermine the Governor’s own three-year process to enact rules for health and safety around oil and gas extraction facilities,” the Chamber said in a press statement. “The bill proposes a 3,200 foot minimum setback, prohibiting oil and gas activities within a specified proximity of homes, schools, and parks, and pollution controls surrounding active oil wells.” 

“The approach offered in SB 1137 will do nothing to reduce California’s oil and gas energy demands,” said CalChamber President and CEO Jennifer Barrera. “Instead, it will drive production out of California and force the state to rely on even more foreign oil imports that are produced in locations with less environmental protections than California.”

Despite Big Oil and its allies pumping Big Money into their effort to stop the bill, the three years of activism by environmental justice advocates, led by the VISION (Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods) and Last Chance Alliance coalition, ended. in victory.

“Finally, after years of asking for an end to the racist practice of neighborhood drilling, environmental justice communities are seeing some real action on this acute public health issue,” said Kobi Naseck,  Coalition Coordinator, Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods.  

As part of the Governor’s climate package, the legislature also passed measures to set a target for 90% clean electricity by 2035 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

“While these targets are steps in the right direction, California must ensure the vast majority of climate pollution reductions occur within the next decade,” according to a press statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “They must also require polluters to cut their emissions rather than relying on accounting gimmicks like carbon trading, or unproven carbon capture technologies.”

The Center also said the Legislature also approved a controversial measure that expedites permits for carbon capture and storage, or CCS, projects, in exchange for some “guardrails” on the projects.

“CCS is an ineffective, unsafe and expensive technology that prolongs the polluting fossil fuel industry and puts communities at risk. California’s measure, for example, would allow under-regulated carbon dioxide pipelines to inject carbon waste at facilities near vulnerable communities,” according to the group.

“It’s beyond frustrating to see the legislature fast-track a technology that has repeatedly failed and poses major risks, only to prolong the fossil fuel industry,” said Victoria Bogdan Tejeda, an attorney at the Center. “Streamlining permits for CCS projects the state has never had at scale is at best misguided and at worst dangerous. If California wants to rush climate action it should forget hazardous, unproven CCS and focus on the rapid phaseout of fossil fuels.”

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