California Lawmakers Move to Ban Fracking in Golden State

Two state senators followed up on Governor Gavin Newsom’s call to ban fracking in the nation’s most populous state, introducing a bill that would prohibit the method of oil and gas extraction by 2027. 

Pumpjacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

(CN) — Two Democrats in the California Senate have teamed up to introduce a bill Tuesday that would ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state as early as 2023. 

“We’ve been discussing these issues for years and years and now is the time to get it passed,” state Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said during a remote press conference Tuesday morning. 

The bill proposes to ban fracking, a controversial method of oil extraction that involves injecting water into sedimentary layers of the earth to create pressure high enough to force out raw materials such as oil. The practice has opened up several previously unattainable reservoirs of natural gas and other material in California and around the nation, but environmentalists warn the practice contaminates well water, surface water and harms wildlife and the ecology. 

Senate Bill 467 would halt the issuance of new fracking permits beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and ban all fracking in the state by Jan. 1, 2027. The bill also proposes to ban three other extraction methods — acid well stimulation treatments, water and steam flooding and cyclic steaming. 

“These methods are all very extreme and destructive,” Wiener said Tuesday. 

The bill figures to be contentious, as the oil and gas industry remains a lucrative part of California’s industry portfolio generating approximately $150 billion in revenue in 2017. Of that, $21.5 billion went to state coffers that year.

Wiener said opposition to the bill from the oil and gas industry will be “intense,” adding California and the nation need to have more discussions about what the transition away from a fossil fuel-based energy system will look like, particularly for the workers who will be displaced. 

“The oil industry has been in decline,” Wiener said. “Instead of waiting for it to fall apart, we need to get ahead of it and help the workers.”

Co-author Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, said the Legislature last considered a fracking ban seven years ago and that it was high time for another formal conversation in 2021. 

“Something is moving and something is changing,” she said. “The people of California and the rest of the country have an interest in moving to greener energy sources.”

This past September, California Governor Gavin Newsom called on lawmakers to introduce a bill banning fracking by 2024. He also said the state will ban gas-powered automobile engines by 2035.

The moves are in response to California residents’ increasing concerns about climate change, as huge destructive wildland fires, prolonged droughts and rising seas have wrought havoc on communities up and down the Golden State. 

SB 467 also contains a provision that requires any functioning oil well to be at least 2,500 feet from houses, schools and businesses. Environmental justice advocates say that low-income individuals and families who live near oil and gas operations are exposed to toxic levels of harmful pollution and often suffer poor health outcomes as a result. 

Environmentalists praised the introduction of the bill Tuesday, saying it will reduce air pollution, improve public health and help the state combat climate change. 

“What this bill aims to do is simple: protect people’s drinking water and air from risky oil extraction while providing a piece of the just transition puzzle for affected workers,” said Tara Messing, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center. “This bill is focused on the most extreme and dangerous forms of unconventional oil production. Last year, the governor signaled it was time to stop this type of oil development and the Legislature has now come up with a solution.” 

The oil industry says California is making a mistake in banning oil extraction techniques already highly regulated by the state, meaning it will likely be forced to import oil from places where environmental regulations are not as robust.

“Shutting down energy production under the toughest regulations on the planet will devastate the economies of oil producing regions — especially the Central Valley — and make the Saudi royal family even richer all while eliminating the industry that is investing in the innovation needed to significantly reduce the state’s carbon footprint,” said Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association. 

The association also said renewable energy jobs are more temporary and lower paying relative to jobs in the oil industry. 

Both Limon and Wiener acknowledged job transition will be a huge part of the conversation in the Legislature as the bill proceeds to committee. 

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