March 17, 2023

Allie Rosenbluth,
Collin Rees,
Aimee Dewing,

Last Chance Alliance: California Issues Hundreds of Neighborhood Oil Drilling Permits in Blow to Environmental Justice

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — Climate justice advocates are descending on state oil regulator CalGEM today at noon to express their outrage over the recent approval of hundreds of oil and gas rework permits to continue dangerous oil operations within 3,200 feet of communities. They will gather today at noon outside the California Natural Resources Agency with banners and props, including an oversized rubber stamp and oil derricks, to call out CalGEM for rubber stamping oil drilling permits in neighborhoods across the state.

A total of 649 permits have been approved since the start of the year and of those, 389 permits (60%) were issued inside the health protection zones that would have been created by Senate Bill 1137. Approvals for oil and gas permits are skyrocketing. More permits were issued in the first two weeks of March than all of January and February.

The rush on permits within the 3,200-foot setback zone comes after California’s oil industry spent millions to deceive voters on a referendum to overturn SB 1137. Petitioners stood outside gas stations and grocery stores across the state, spreading misinformation to collect signatures. In more progressive communities, signature gatherers claimed the referendum would end neighborhood drilling. With the fossil fuel industry-backed referendum qualifying for the November 2024 ballot, California’s landmark environmental justice bill and the vital protections it provides have been put on hold.

Across the state, industrial oil operations take place just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community risks of asthma, birth defects and cancer. More than 2 million people live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil well. California is one of the last oil producing states in the nation to allow oil drilling in neighborhoods.

According to FracTracker’s analysis of data from state oil regulator CalGEM, permits were issued within 3,200 feet of Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern, Central Coast and Northern California communities.

Download a map of permit approvals within the 3,200-foot health protective zone.

Members of Last Chance Alliance sent a letter to Governor Newsom on Tuesday asking him to rescind the permits, stating: “CalGEM approved these permits without any environmental review of the serious harms that are likely to result from these dangerous operations.”

CalGEM issues rework permits to oil and gas operators who are modifying an existing well. Rework operations are significant sources of pollution that put frontline communities and sensitive individuals at elevated risk of health impacts.

Download photos of the protest at CalGEM today at noon. 

Below please find quotes from members of Last Chance Alliance:

Allie Rosenbluth, United States Program Manager, Oil Change International
“It’s simple — climate leaders don’t drill. Governor Newsom’s dreams of climate leadership are seriously jeopardized when his agencies approve hundreds of new oil and gas permits. The fossil fuel industry is using this moment to hoard record profits despite Californians overwhelmingly supporting public health setbacks and climate action. To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change by staying below 1.5ÂşC of global warming, California must immediately stop the expansion of fossil fuels and commit to a just transition to more reliable, affordable, and renewable energy sources. Governor Newsom still has an opportunity to position California at the forefront of global climate leadership, but that requires stopping all new permits for fossil fuel drilling now.”

Cesar Aguirre, Organizer, Central California Environmental Justice Network
“CalGEM issuing hundreds of permits to negligent oil companies so they can continue drilling in our communities just months after they released an emergency rule to block neighborhood drilling is exactly why we don’t trust them. This is exactly the free-for-all that California’s oil industry wanted when they bought their way onto the ballot and forced the stay of SB1137.”

Marjaneh Moini, MD, Board Member, Physicians for Social Responsibility
“It is bad enough that Big Oil rips off Californians at the pump and uses their record profits to fight public health measures. They spent 20 million dollars to put SB1137 on hold, a health protective law that prohibits drilling near schools, homes and hospitals. They may even succeed at reversing it in 2024. What is worse is how CalGEM, which is supposed to prioritize protecting public health, has issued hundreds of permits within the health protective zone since January. Officials at CalGEM know how harmful oil and gas drilling near schools, day care facilities and homes are, but they are issuing these permits that put children at risk of birth defects, cancer, lung disease and much more. This has to stop.”

Vanessa Forsythe, RN, MSN, California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice
“CalGEM we can’t afford the health and financial impacts resulting from leaking oil wells. Stop permits to oil companies that pass them on to shell companies that leave us to pay for leaking orphan wells. CalGEM serves the people — not oil and petroleum companies.”

Maricruz Ramirez, Community Organizer, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
“While a state commissioned public health panel has shown that living near oil and gas drilling is harmful to our health, the oil and gas industry has no problem funneling more than $20 million into trying to overturn a public health law, SB1137, aimed at ending the practice. Now, after using money to corrupt policy, they continue to apply for drilling permits in our neighborhoods. CalGEM has the responsibility to step in and reject these permits and the agency has done it before. Each day that passes is one that CALGEM can stop issuing drilling permits altogether and continue rule-making processes to codify 3,200-foot setbacks. They can’t pick and choose when to protect the environment and public health. CALGEM and the state should be doing the most they can to demonstrate their commitment to the people of California and one of their most important resources, their health; instead, unfortunately, it’s business as usual.”

Amy Moas, PhD, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace USA
“Last month it was illegal for California to approve any kind of oil drilling permit in neighborhoods because of the toxic health impacts. But the oil industry dumped more than $20 million into a referendum to pause this law and buy their way onto the ballot in 2024. Just weeks later, the industry is being rewarded with hundreds of shiny new permits for oil and gas work dangerously close to neighborhoods. This is nonsensical. Governor Newsom appears to be standing up to Big Oil by signing SB1137 last year and attempting to pass a price gouging penalty, so why is he still quietly approving their requests for new permits that will lock frontline communities into a toxic future?”

Woody Hastings, Phase Out Polluting Fuels Program Manager, The Climate Center
“Californians have been demanding protection from toxic oil drilling for years. Fossil fuel corporations are fighting tooth and nail to continue drilling in our neighborhoods, but Governor Newsom has the power to stop them. The governor fought for public health setbacks from oil wells last year — now we urge him to continue that leadership by immediately halting all new permits for oil and gas drilling, especially within the 3,200-foot setback zone established by SB1137.”

Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator FracTracker Alliance
“Permitting rework and workover operations in neighborhoods near frontline communities directly exposes Californians to harmful and carcinogenic air pollution like benzene compounds, toluene, and naphthalene. Governor Newsom and CalGEM must stop allowing oil companies to increase the risk of cancer, birth defects, and other negative health effects for marginalized Californians.” 

Nancy Treviño, Associate Director for Network Power,
“While Big Oil keeps reporting record-breaking profits, families in California continue struggling to survive. Shame on CALGEM for approving new permits in sacrifice zones that communities across California fought so hard to protect. SB1137 ensured that those who are most vulnerable to the public health impacts of fossil fuel extraction would be protected. Governor Newsom must act immediately to protect our lives and well-being.”

Sakerah Carter, Senior Policy Advocate, Sierra Club California
“The regulatory power of CalGEM is seemingly nonexistent. Instead of abiding by its own setbacks rulemaking process, CalGEM is granting rework permits to operators to extract additional oil near communities. Each of these permits expands the reach of Big Oil. We must hold CalGEM to its mission of protecting public health by moving the setbacks rulemaking process forward. The oil industry’s playbook is to throw money at public institutions to secure their bottom line, but our climate and public health are not for sale.”

Chirag Bhakta, California Director, Food & Water Watch
“Fossil fuel-driven climate change is driving intense storms and prolonged dry periods. This is wreaking havoc on our water security and will only worsen as climate change accelerates — yet the state continues to approve fossil fuel permits. It’s time for Governor Newsom to show leadership, protect California’s water and communities by directing CalGEM to stop approving fossil fuel permits immediately.”

Hollin Kretzmann, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity Climate Law Institute
“It’s shameful and immoral for California to approve a fresh onslaught of new oil drilling permits near homes and schools. But above all it’s illegal. Governor Newsom needs to make California’s rogue oil and gas regulator follow the law and heed his call for robust community protections. Newsom has the power to adopt long-overdue safeguards that will put Californians’ health and safety first, and end oil companies’ dangerous drill-at-will dominance. It’s past time Newsom appointed a regulator who won’t rubber-stamp the way to more climate catastrophe.”

Shoshana Wechsler, Coordinator, Sunflower Alliance
“CalGEM says that it ‘prioritizes protecting public health, safety, and the environment.’ But in a tragic betrayal of public trust, it is cynically enabling the very industry it’s tasked with regulating. In recent weeks CalGEM has set loose an avalanche of rework permits, increasing unacceptable risks to public health and safety and accelerating the climate crisis. Governor Newsom must immediately halt the issuance of all new permits for oil and gas drilling.”

Jennifer Koney, Legislative Analyst, 350 Bay Area Action
“It is unconscionable that the State of California and CalGEM are joining the fossil fuel industry in abusing the landmark setbacks law passed last year. CalGEM is specifically allowing continuation of dangerous and toxic drilling operations in neighborhoods, when the people who live and work in the hazardous environment created by oil and gas drilling clearly voted and said NO! to neighborhood drilling! Environmental justice demands that no new drilling permits be allowed while the law is temporarily on hold. Protect the health and safety of Californians living and going to school near oil and gas wells! Protect the 3,200-foot health and safety setback zone!”

Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, Professor at the University of San Francisco and Leadership Council Member, California Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
“In public health, primary prevention means completely removing the cause of a health risk. In the context of protecting communities where drilling is occurring that means stopping drilling. We thought we were heading in that public health and disease-prevention direction with the passage of SB1137. But that forward motion has been thwarted by the relentless health-defying interests of the fossil fuel industry. CalGEM is the Governor’s agency and he must direct it to protect public health and in the direction of primary prevention.”