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Gavin Newsom's New Year's Gift: 14 new fracking permits, delayed public health regulations

by Dan Bacher
California Gavin Newsom has come under fire from environmentalists and the public over the fracking and other oil drilling permits that CalGEM issued in 2020 for Aera Energy and other oil companies.
How did CalGEM, the state agency overseeing oil and gas regulations, celebrate New Year’s Eve? They issued 14 more fracking permits to Aera Energy and delayed to spring 2021 the release of public health regulations for oil and gas wells.

The agency announced the delay in regulations on the year’s last day as people were getting ready to celebrate the arrival of the New Year locked down in their homes due to the COVID Pandemic.

"It looks like the release of CalGEM’s discussion draft has been delayed until Spring 2021,” said Theo LeQuesne, Climate Campaigner, Climate Law Institute, Center for Biological Diversity after reading the agency’s announcement. “They have also permitted another 14 fracking permits to Aera (Lobbyist Jason Kinney’s client) in the South Belridge field yesterday and today.

LeQuesne now estimates the number of fracking permits issued in 2020 at 83, for a total of 608 individual frack events in 2020.

In their announcement, the Department of Conservation’s California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) claimed it “is committed to transparency as it works to establish science- based health and safety regulations to protect communities and workers from the impacts of oil extraction activities.”

The agency claims it has extended the timeline to enable input from what it describes as “an independent panel of public health experts.”

“Consistent with Executive Order N-79-20, CalGEM planned to release its draft regulations this month, but this timeline has been extended to which took longer to assemble than anticipated. CalGEM will receive guidance from the public health expert panel to inform the draft regulation that CalGEM will post online -- for a minimum of 60 days of public review -- in Spring 2021,” the agency stated.

CalGEM has contracted with the University of California at Berkeley to enlist a panel that includes oil and gas public health experts, epidemiologists, toxicologists, and medical experts.

In the delayed draft regulations, CalGEM said it is currently considering “protective setbacks” between oil production and sensitive receptors such as homes, schools and communities.”

Environmental justice organizations and frontline communities are asking for health and safety setbacks of 2500 feet between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, hospitals and other facilities.

The agency also said it is “considering operational and engineering controls that limit or eliminate potentially harmful conditions affecting workers and nearby communities.”

Unlike other oil and gas drilling states with the exception of Alaska, California currently has no health and safety setbacks between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, hospitals and other facilities. Even Texas and North Dakota has minimal setbacks, unlike California. Other states that have health and safety setbacks include Colorado, Pennysylvania and Maryland.

In California, oil and gas companies can drill wells right next to homes.

Since January 2019, Governor Newsom’s oil and gas regulators have approved a total of 7,625 total oil and gas drilling permits, according to updated data from Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance at the website:

In 2020 to date, CalGEM has approved 3,344 permits, including 1,884 new permits and 1,460 oil well rework permits. New permits approved during the first nine months of 2020 rose 160%, while new wells actually drilled plummeted, the groups found.

The two public interest groups linked the map on to video footage capturing leaking infrastructure at half a dozen well sites near communities that received permits under the Newsom Administration.

The Fractracker Alliance has also just published a new study on the potential impacts of health and safety setbacks and environmental justice in California revealing that 2.7 million people, mostly low income and people of color, live within 2,500' of oil and gas infrastructure, and a total of 7.37 million Californians live within 1 mile of oil and gas wells.

The report, People and Production: Reducing Risk in California Extraction, makes a number of conclusions, including recommending a setback of at least one mile between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, based on the peer reviewed literature.

California Gavin Newsom has come under fire from environmentalists and the public over the fracking and other oil drilling permits that CalGEM issued in 2020 for Aera Energy and other oil companies.

In November, the Governor came under even greater scrutiny when the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Newsom had attended a birthday party at an exclusive Napa restaurant, Fresh Laundry, for his friend and connected advisor, lobbyist Jayson Kinney, where the participants didn’t practice the Governor’s own social distancing and other rules developed to deal with the COVID pandemic.

Steve Horn of Capital & Main had previously reported that Kinney’s lobbying firm, Axion Advisors, represented Aera Energy, the recipient of many of the oil drilling permits granted to oil companies in 2020.

“That company, Aera Energy — a joint venture of Shell and ExxonMobil — is represented by the lobbying firm Axiom Advisors. Axiom’s lobbyists include Jason Kinney, a senior advisor to Newsom while he served as lieutenant governor, and Kevin Schmidt, a policy director for Newsom during the same time period,” reported Horn. “Kinney’s wife, Mary Gonsalves Kinney, Capital & Main previously reported, is also the personal stylist for First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.”

Lobbying reports reveal that Aera paid Axiom $110,000 for its lobbying work in 2019 and, so far in 2020, has paid $30,000, noted Horn.

In addition to his longtime relationship with a lobbyist for Aera, Newsom also took $97,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in 2019-20, according the Sierra Club’s “Tracking the Dirty Dollars” project. Check it out: Report Overview

Here's the complete announcement from CalGEM —

Background: Big Oil Regulatory Capture in California

The reason why the Newsom administration is approving increasing numbers of oil and gas permits at a time of an unprecedented pandemic is due to the uncomfortable fact that the oil industry is the most powerful corporate lobby in California and exercises enormous influence over the Governor’s Office, the State Legislature and the State’s regulatory panels, commissions and panels.

Last year the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful lobbying organization in the state, pumped more money into lobbying than any other organization in California, spending a total of $8.8 million. The San Ramon-based Chevron pumped the third most money into lobbying, a total of $5.9 million. The lobbying expenses of the two oil industry giants came to a total of $14.7 million.

During the first quarter of 2020, at the same time that the Newsom Administration approved 1,623 total oil drilling permits, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent $1,089,702 lobbying state officials.

Chevron spent even more: $1,638,497 in the first quarter of 2020 to influence legislators, the Governor’s Office and other state officials. The two oil industry giants combined to spend a total of $2,728,199 lobbying from January 1-March 31.

In the second quarter of 2020, WSPA spent $1,220,986 while Chevron spent $974,322 on lobbying in California, a total of $2,195,308.

In the third quarter of 2020, WSPA spent $1,169,397 while Chevron pumped $752,437 into lobbying.

Aera Energy — the company that the majority of fracking permits approved in 2020 went to — spent a total of $672,604 lobbying California officials in 2019. In 2020 to date, Aera spent $290,826 on lobbying from January 1 to March 31, $191,660 from April 1 to June 30, and $200,082 from July 1 to September 30, a total of $682,028, more than all of last year.

Lobbying is just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 7 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; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; and (7) contributing to non profit organizations.

A classic example of deep regulatory capture in California is how Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the same time that she was lobbying for new oil drilling off the West Coast.

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by stating the obvious
hope he is forced to rescind the permits
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