California Proposes Confines on Community Drilling

California Proposes Confines on Community Drilling

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN UNDER THE PLAN?

An ambitious plan by California controllers to block new oil and gas wells inside 3,200 feet (975 meters) of schools and homes is drawing protests from the oil business and plaudits from environmentalists, who actually need the state to go further. But the arrangement delivered Thursday is only an initial step, and things are a long way from settled. Kevin Slagle, a representative for the Western States Petroleum Association, said the oil business lobbying arm would pursue regulations that consider “the unique needs of each community and region.” In other words, the gathering doesn’t need a statewide rule. He said it was too soon to know whether the petroleum association would lawful challenges. Here’s a glance at what’s in the proposal, how it came about and what’s next:

It adopted as written, the state would stop allowing new oil and gas wells to be drilled within 3,200 feet of K-12 schools and daycares, homes and dorms, health care centers such as hospitals or nursing homes, and public-facing businesses.

It wouldn’t stop existing drilling within those zones but would create more than a dozen new pollution control measures designed to limit the negative health effects for people who live nearby.

WHY WAS IT PROPOSED?

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has made bold pronouncements about his desire to wean the state from oil and gas production and use, declaring that oil won’t be part of the state’s future. When he took office in 2019, he told the state’s oil and gas regulator to make health and safety part of its mission. This proposal flows from that.

It would create the largest buffer zone around oil drilling and community sites in the nation if adopted, something the governor and his administration have touted repeatedly.

A 15-member panel of experts, including scientists and public health leaders, concluded that living within 3,200 feet, or about 1 kilometer, of oil and gas drilling increased the risks for respiratory problems or birth complications, based on studies conducted in California and other oil-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania

Some people who live near drilling sites say they experience nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory issues and other problems. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO EXISTING WELLS?

Wells that fall within the 3,200-foot zone wouldn’t have to close down. But they would have to meet new pollution controls. Administration officials say they hope those rules will prompt some well owners to shut them down. One of those controls is a leak detection and response plan that would require operators to detect for chemicals such as methane or hydrogen sulfide with an alarm system. Operators would have to suspend use of the well or production facility until a leak is corrected and the state’s oil regulator gives the OK to resume. They must notify the community if the leak isn’t stopped with 48 hours.

Other controls include preventing and recovering the release of vapors, keeping sound and lighting low between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., and conducting water sampling. WHEN DOES IT TAKE EFFECT?

Not for a while — and it could change. The proposal released Thursday will now go through a 60-day public comment period, followed by an economic analysis and another year of bureaucratic wrangling. The final rule won’t take effect until at least 2023, and oil drillers would have a year or two to comply with the strictest parts. WHERE IS THIS HAPPENING?

There are more than 18,000 active oil and gas wells in California within 3,200 feet of community sites, mostly in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley, particularly in oil-rich Kern County. Low-income Californians and communities of color are the most likely to live in neighborhoods with oil drilling. In some places, people live right next door or across the street from drilling operations, exposing them to loud sounds, foul smells and, sometimes, emissions.

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