California Sets Moratorium on Fracking Technique, Demands Scientific Evidence for New Permits
California will make new oil and gas fracking permits subject to scientific review, slap a moratorium on a production technique responsible for a recent major spill, and set new public safety rules for siting oil and gas wells under new regulations announced last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” Newsom said. “This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment, and our economy.”
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The high-pressure cyclic steaming process covered by the new moratorium “has come under public scrutiny since July, when [NPR] member station KQED reported a series of uncontrolled releases of crude petroleum and water from Chevron wells in Kern County that started in May and continue today,” National Public Radio reports. “More than 900,000 gallons of oil and brine have been released from the Chevron facility and the corporation has been fined US$2.7 million. The state wants to find out whether the high-pressure cyclic steaming process can be done safely, or whether the practice should be prohibited altogether.”
After what Bloomberg describes as Newsom’s “latest salvo against the petroleum industry”, the state’s largest fossil producer, California Resources Corporation, saw its stock price fall by up to 32% and its bonds reduced to 25¢ on the dollar, the news agency reports. Shares in Bakersfield-based Berry Petroleum Corporation lost 25%.
“Gov. Newsom’s historic action protects Californians from some of the most dangerous and destructive oil extraction techniques,” said Center for Biological Diversity Senior Counsel Kassie Siegel. “This marks the turning of the tide against the oil industry, which has been allowed to drill at will in our state for more than 150 years. This is the kind of leadership necessary to make California the first major oil-producing state to phase out extraction and protect people and our planet from dirty fossil fuels.”
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the new rules are unnecessary in a jurisdiction whose environmental regulations lead the world. “It is disappointing that the state would pursue additional studies when multiple state agencies already validate our protection of health, safety, and the environment during production,” she told NPR by email. “These agencies should also consider reliability, affordability, and resilience of our energy supply, as every barrel delayed or not produced in this state will only increase imports from more costly foreign sources that do not share our environmental and safety standards.”
NPR notes that Newsom’s announcement “follows the July firing of [Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources] director Ken Harris after it was revealed that the division had significantly increased fracking permits under Newsom’s new administration. There were also allegations that some senior DOGGR officials owned stock in oil companies they regulated.”