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Thirty-Seven Groups Urge Newsom to Halt New Fossil Fuel Drilling, Close Aliso Canyon
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Jan 9th, 2020 11:49 AM
“The combined effects of wildfires, mudslides, power shut-offs and droughts leave no doubt that California is in a climate emergency,” said Food & Water Action State Director Alexandra Nagy in a statement. “The time for half-measures is long gone. Governor Newsom still has the opportunity to take courageous action before it’s too late. This means banning fracking, shutting down Aliso Canyon and moving the state rapidly off fossil fuels and onto clean, renewable energy.” 
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Sacramento - On the anniversary of Governor Gavin Newsom’s first year in office on January 7, thirty-seven environmental and public health groups called on the governor to declare an “immediate climate emergency” and institute a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling permits. 

In a letter to the governor, the groups also urged Newsom to ban fracking, close the dangerous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Los Angeles, institute a 2,500-foot buffer zone between drilling and sensitive areas like schools and homes, and order a public takeover of PG&E, according to a press release from the groups. 

The letter notes that Newsom “has not lived up to his promises to take bold action to address the climate crisis in the state, and his efforts fall short of what is needed - and of what he promised as a candidate - to move California off of fossil fuel production and consumption.”

The letter states: 

“On the anniversary of your first year in office, we urge you to take bolder action in line with the urgency of the climate emergency that faces California and the world. While you have taken some steps to address oil and gas in our state, they fall far short of what is needed to confront the climate crisis. We appreciate your pledge to move the state off of fossil fuels, but California needs to take audacious action before it is too late. Our future depends on whether or not you rise to this challenge.

This past November, 11,000 climate scientists issued a report finding that the world “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.” We see this in California, with the combined effects of fires, mudslides, droughts and power shut offs.

To that end, we call on you to immediately declare a climate emergency, which would include issuing an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel permits, banning fracking, shutting down the dangerous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, instituting buffer zones to protect communities and addressing the PG&E debacle with a clear plan for public power.” 

The letter was initiated by Food & Water Action and signed by an array of groups including Consumer Watchdog, 350.org, Environment CA, Progressive Democrats of America, the Rootskeeper, CCEJN, Stand.earth, CODEPINK, Aliso Moms Alliance and Mothers Out Front.

“The combined effects of wildfires, mudslides, power shut-offs and droughts leave no doubt that California is in a climate emergency,” said Food & Water Action State Director Alexandra Nagy in a statement. “The time for half-measures is long gone. Governor Newsom still has the opportunity to take courageous action before it’s too late. This means banning fracking, shutting down Aliso Canyon and moving the state rapidly off fossil fuels and onto clean, renewable energy.” 

Matt Leonord, Director of Special Projects with 350.org, added, "Governor Newsom has recognized the extreme threats that the climate crisis presents, and the question now is if he will do what science, and his constituents demand - stop drilling for oil. The same way California catalyzed national shifts on gay marriage or marijuana - this is Newsom's opportunity to create a just transition to a clean-energy economy that protects workers, communities, and the climate." 

Deirdre Bolona of Aliso Moms Alliance said she was disappointed that Gov. Newsom had not lived up to his promise of closing the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, the site of the worst gas blowout in U.S. history in 2015.

“My family and my neighbors continue to suffer daily from headaches, rashes, nosebleeds and other symptoms of toxic exposure from this dangerous facility, but Gov. Newsom still wants to further study on what state officials have already concluded: it’s time to shut Aliso Canyon down. We were encouraged by his promises to close Aliso Canyon, but we are sick and tired of waiting, while Gov. Newsom punts on the decision,” she stated.

The organizations urged the Gov. Newsom to step up efforts to “address the climate crisis in his second year in office and make California and example for the rest of the country and the world.”

Newsom’s first year in the Governor’s Office was disappointing for many conservation, public health and environmental justice advocates. While Newsom halted fracking temporarily as the permits are studied by scientists after major public outcry after his administration increased fracking by 103 percent in the first five months of his administration, the governor continued Governor Jerry Brown’s expansion of oil and gas drilling in the state.

The letter states: 

“As you acknowledge, if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to phase out oil production in California. To do this, the first step is to stop ​expanding​ production. Yet, during your first year, new drilling permits continued to increase. Your recent moratorium on high pressure cyclic steam drilling, pending a study on how to regulate or prohibit this practice, sets an important precedent. However, this action will only affect three oil fields in Kern County. Notably, the moratorium does not cover regular cyclic steam drilling or a whole host of other unconventional drilling methods. For example, the proposed 667 new wells that would use cyclic steam drilling in Cat Canyon, in North Santa Barbara County, would be unaffected by this moratorium.”

In addition to continuing Governor Jerry Brown’s expansion of oil and gas drilling in the state, Newsom also failed to close the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Los Angeles, mandate a 2,500-foot buffer zone between oil and gas drilling and sensitive areas like schools and homes and order a public takeover of PG&E and halt Governor Brown’s expansion of offshore drilling in state waters under existing leases.

New website maps and updates number of oil and gas wells issued permits

The FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog unveiled a new website on November 19, 2019, to continually map and update the number of oil and gas wells permitted by the Newsom Administration: http://www.NewsomWellWatch.com.

“The pace of permitting overall is still on track to beat the total number of permits issued during Brown’s final year in office (2018). The number of drilling and rework permits issued in the first ten months of 2019 through November 4 total 4,049. In the same period of 2018, under Governor Brown, the total was 3,723,” the groups stated in a press release.

In addition to increasing the number of permits issued annually in 2019, the groups said “about ten percent of permits continue to be approved for wells that present the greatest risk to frontline communities. These wells are within 2,500 feet of schools, hospitals, homes, daycares, and nursing facilities and are sources of toxic air emissions including carcinogens.”

Unlike many other oil and gas producing states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, supposedly “green” California has no health and safety zones around oil and gas drilling operations.

For example, the state of Texas requires fracking operations to maintain 250 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities. This is by no means adequate for health and safety protections, but it is better than California that has zero required setbacks. In addition, the City of Dallas mandates 1500 foot setbacks around oil and gas wells.

This year Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced legislation, AB 345, to change things in California. This legislation that would ensure that new oil and gas wells not on federal land are located 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds and health clinics.

Unfortunately, intense lobbying pressure from the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and legislators receiving big donations from Chevron and other big oil companies prevented the legislature from approving the legislation — and it has been made into a two year bill.

Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FrackTracker Alliance, noted that “while it is promising for the climate and community health to see that Governor Newsom’s administration has stopped issuing hydraulic fracturing and acidizing permits, the real health threat continues to expand in California.”

“Oil and gas wells continue to be permitted in increasing numbers near schools, hospitals, and next to homes in frontline communities,” said Ferrar. “Only setbacks and an end to drilling can reduce the elevated risks of cancer, congenital disorders, asthma and other health impacts resulting from living near oil and gas drilling.”

In July, the FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog found that the pace of permitting the drilling of new oil and gas wells had grown by 77% over the year before. This included both new oil and gas production wells and enhanced oil recovery wells (EOR).

The groups said permits for drilling new oil and gas production wells had increased by 61.6%. Permits for well reworks were also elevated at 19.5%, and 53.3% if only rework permits for oil and gas production wells were considered.

“As a result, Governor Newsom fired California’s top oil regulator and instituted an ethics review of the state’s oil well approval and inspection process. Since then, the pace of permitting to drill new oil and gas wells slowed, but as of November 4, 2019 was still 17.2% higher than 2018, according to the California Department of Conservation data,” the groups stated.

“This includes new oil and gas production wells (up 15.3%) and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and support wells (up 18.2%). Enhanced oil recovery wells use techniques such as steam flooding, cyclic steaming, water flooding and other methods to gain access to hard-to-extract heavy crude oil,” they said.

“This reflects an overall decrease of nearly 60% in the rate of permitting new drilling since July. Similarly, rates of permitting well reworks have slowed 18.5%. As of November 4, permits to rework oil and gas production wells were elevated 19.6% versus 53.3% on July 8; a drop of 33.7%. Well reworks permits are required to deepen, redrill and recondition wells; techniques used to improve production,” the groups concluded. 

Western States Petroleum Association and Big Oil dominate lobby spending in California

The increase in oil and gas drilling permits is a result of the millions of dollars every year that WSPA, the most powerful corporate lobbying group in California and the West, and oil companies spend every year on lobbying state officials, including the Governor’s Office and state regulatory agencies.

The Western States Petroleum Association is led by Catherine Reheis-Boyd-Boyd, the WSPA President and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” off the Southern California Coast.

WSPA spent $6,608,836 lobbying in the first quarters of 2019; the total spending for the  year won’t be known until the fourth quarter lobbying expenses are published on the California Secretary of State’s website by January 31. The group spent $2,482,133 lobbying in 2019's third quarter after spending $4,126,703 in the first 2 quarters of the year, according to forms WSPA filed with the California Secretary of State on October 30.

For the entire 2017-2018 Session, WSPA spent a total of $15,768,069. The group spent $7,874, 807 to influence California government officials in 2018. Of the four quarters, WSPA spent its most money lobbying, $2,649,018, in the eighth quarter, from October 1 to December 31, 2018.

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.  

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

For more information about WSPA and Big Oil, go to: California's Biggest Secret? How Big Oil Dominates Public Discourse to Manipulate and Deceive: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/07/californias-biggest-secret-how-big-oil-dominates-public-discourse-to-manipulate-and-deceive/

Below is the letter to Newsom:

January 7, 2020

Governor Gavin Newsom 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173 Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom,

On the anniversary of your first year in office, we urge you to take bolder action in line with the urgency of the climate emergency that faces California and the world. While you have taken some steps to address oil and gas in our state, they fall far short of what is needed to confront the climate crisis. We appreciate your pledge to move the state off of fossil fuels, but California needs to take audacious action before it is too late. Our future depends on whether or not you rise to this challenge.

This past November, 11,000 climate scientists issued a report finding that the world “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.” We see this in California, with the combined effects of fires, mudslides, droughts and power shut offs.

To that end, we call on you to immediately declare a climate emergency, which would include issuing an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel permits, banning fracking, shutting down the dangerous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, instituting buffer zones to protect communities and addressing the PG&E debacle with a clear plan for public power.

Moratorium on New Fossil Fuel Permits: ​As you acknowledge, if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to phase out oil production in California. To do this, the first step is to stop ​expanding​ production. Yet, during your first year, new drilling permits continued to increase. Your recent moratorium on high pressure cyclic steam drilling, pending a study on how to regulate or prohibit this practice, sets an important precedent. However, this action will only affect three oil fields in Kern County. Notably, the moratorium does not cover regular cyclic steam drilling or a whole host of other unconventional drilling methods. For example, the proposed 667 new wells that would use cyclic steam drilling in Cat Canyon, in North Santa Barbara County, would be unaffected by this moratorium. Further, your 2019-2020 budget allocated $1.5 million to study phasing out fossil fuels in California. The intention to create a set of strategies to this end while identifying resources that can address the economic needs of low income fenceline communities and potentially displaced fossil industry workers is important, but it should not stop you from taking action to address the expanding industry today.As Governor, you can take meaningful action by immediately stopping all new oil and gas drilling permits to protect community health, water and the climate.

Ban Fracking:​ Fracking and extreme drilling continue to expand oil production in California, threatening communities and the environment. As a candidate, you promised to oppose fracking and unconventional drilling. However, while states like New York, Maryland,

Washington, and Oregon have banned or placed a moratorium on the process, you have yet to do so. After it was revealed that fracking permits increased in your first months in office, you instituted a de facto moratorium and fired the head of DOGGR. This was great news and we were hopeful. However, your new order in late November called for a study of fracking, and more significantly, directed the backlog of permits to be reviewed for potential approval by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Creating a different process for approving fracking permits is not the same as stopping them. ​You should use your executive authority to immediately put a halt on fracking and unconventional, dangerous drilling.

Shut Down Aliso Canyon:​ As a candidate and as Governor, you promised to shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, yet the dangerous gas field remains open. Nearly a year into your tenure, you asked the California Public Utilities Commission to study permanently closing Aliso Canyon. Yet, another study without a deadline simply kicks the can down the road while neighboring families suffer from the effects of toxic emissions. In fact, under your administration SoCalGas has increased withdrawals from Aliso Canyon, taking advantage of relaxed regulations by the CPUC. ​As Governor, it is up to you to set a deadline of no more than a year to shut down Aliso Canyon. You can do this through an Executive Order directing your agencies to take swift action.

Protecting Communities from Oil and Gas Drilling with Public Health Setbacks:​ You announced a rule-making process to strengthen public health protections relating to oil production, including a potential human health and safety buffer. We strongly endorse establishing a 2500-foot buffer -- based on a precautionary approach and the best available science -- that would prohibit new drilling and phase out existing wells within 2500 feet of sensitive land uses. After decades of neglect, protecting communities -- overwhelming low income people and people of color -- living fenceline to oil and gas production should be a priority first step in a broader fossil fuel phase out plan. However, implementation is left to the new head of CalGEM, the former petroleum administrator for Los Angeles, who recommended a paltry 600-foot buffer – not nearly enough to protect communities. ​Anything less than a 2500-foot buffer zone would fly in the face of science showing that families living closest to these sites bear serious health risks.

Public Power:​ PG&E had already filed bankruptcy when you entered office, leaving the future of the largest utility in California open to massive change. Midway through your first year, you backed SB1054 designed to bail out PG&E shareholders from wildfire liabilities. Then, as power shut offs increased and PG&E-induced fires raged, you indicated that public power should be a backup option to overhauling PG&E’s current corporate model. The PG&E debacle is the worst case scenario showing why we can no longer rely on investor owned utilities. Still, you keep throwing lifelines to a failing system that lacks accountability, prioritizes corporate profits over human needs and has inherently higher costs for ratepayers. ​In 2020, you can make public power your first priority for PG&E restructuring, helping to ensure lower rates, more public accountability and that public safety and clean energy are the top priorities.

We urge you to step up efforts to tackle climate change and community health in your second year in office. Taking the steps we suggest would demonstrate the climate leadership our state so desperately needs and would make California an example to the world.

Sincerely,

Alexandra Nagy Food & Water Watch

Matt Leonard 350.org

Russell Greene
Progressive Democrats of America

Jodie Evans CODEPINK

Nicole Ghio
Friends of the Earth US

Mary Zeiser Stand.earth

Barbara Sattler
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Sandy Naranjo Mothers Out Front

Jerry Rivers
North American Climate, Conservation and Environment (NACCE)

Liza Tucker Consumer Watchdog

Daniel Jacobson Environment California

David Braun Rootskeeper

Gustavo Aguirre Jr CCEJN

Heidi Harmon
350 San Luis Obispo

Bill Przylucki
People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER)

Jane Wishon
Stonewall Democratic Club

Vlad Popescu Indivisible CA-43

Lois Arkin CRSP

Micki Curtis
Lemon Frog Shop Vintage Bazaar

Kobi Naseck Sunrise Bay Area

Tara McHugh
San José Peace & Justice Center

Michael Barth
San Fernando Valley Young Democrats

Judy Curry
Women for Orange County

Hamid Assian
Kids Kung Fu Moves

George Christopher Thomas California News Press

Denis Thomopoulos CoolTheClimate.com

Pauline Seales
Santa Cruz Climate Action Network

Suzanne DeBenedittis Frack Free LA County

Aura Walker
Citizen's Coalition for a Safe Community.

Terry KrugerLA Pachamama Community

Casey Ramirez DSA-Los Angeles

Maro Kakoussian
March And Rally Los Angeles

Rabeya Sen
Esperanza Community Housing Corporation

Frank Tamborello
Hunger Action Los Angeles Inc

Lydia Ponce
Idle No More SoCal

Joyce Lane SanDiego350

Mark Morris
SoCal 350 Climate Action


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