Racism, Covid-19 and Oil Drilling Are Conected

By Melanie Cohen, Conservation Co-Chair

California has long produced some of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil in the world, with operations taking place dangerously close to homes, schools, hospitals and other sensitive sites. Proximity to oil development is associated with adverse health effects including asthma and other respiratory illnesses, which increase the risk of severe consequences from COVID-19.

“The costs of living near oil and gas wells include higher risk of cancer, asthma, and preterm birth, and those consequences are only increasing. Meanwhile, oil production in California is in a long-term decline,” said Kobi Naseck of Voices In Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods. “Right now, millions of Californians—overwhelmingly low income, Black, Indigenous, and people of color—are reckoning with the Covid-19 pandemic in addition to these chronic health issues caused by the oil industry in their backyards. VISION calls for a Just Recovery from Covid that includes necessary health and safety setbacks and a Just Transition for workers employed by the failing fossil fuel industry and impacted communities.

There’s hope: Assembly Bill 1057 requires the California Geologic Energy Management Division (“CalGEM”) to focus on protecting public health and the environment rather than just regulating the oil and gas industry in California. CalGEM is actively working on revising its regulations to better align its regulatory mandates with the new goals of the bill.

As part of its pre-rulemaking process, last November CalGEM released a series of initiatives targeting certain oil and gas extraction methods, intended to safeguard public health and the environment, including:

  1. A moratorium on new oil extraction wells that use high-pressure steam to break oil formations below the ground
  2. Updated and strengthened rules for public health and safety protections near oil and gas extraction facilities
  3. An independent audit of CalGEM’s permitting processes for well stimulation and underground injection control and a scientific review of pending well stimulation permits to ensure public health, safety and environmental protections are met prior to approving each permit.

These initiatives are in line with the State of California’s overall climate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.  California intends to meet this goal by decreasing fossil fuel dependence and consumption. Earlier this year CalGEM solicited comments regarding its proposed regulatory changes. More than 40,000 Californians from across the state commented via email or in-person and online at town halls. In public comments, many Californians urged the Governor and CalGEM to address the crisis facing over five million people who live closest to oil extraction, which disproportionately impacts communities of color who already suffer from some of the highest concentrations of environmental pollution in the state. Commenters called on Gov. Newsom to mandate 2,500-foot health and safety buffer requirements between fossil-fuel infrastructure and homes, schools, and other sensitive sites statewide.

Sierra Club supports this new role for CalGEM and supports the 2,500-foot setback ruling. Sign the petition here. Want to do even more? Call your state senator and urge them to vote for AB345.

Local rulings being developed by Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning and are calling for ONLY 500-foot setbacks!! Sign the Sierra Club petition here to CALL for the statewide regulation of 2500 feet:


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