After years of effort, California front-line communities celebrated a long-awaited victory earlier this year when the state’s first setback bill, SB1137, was signed into law. Up until a few weeks ago, California had no setback requirement, despite being the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the United States. Oil and gas wells were able to be built right up against homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, day-care centers, and other so-called “sensitive receptors,” without any buffer zone and with limited monitoring requirements.
Starting in 2023, SB1137 requires a setback of 3,200 feet between new oil wells and sensitive receptors, and will require stronger pollution controls for wells already existing within 3,200 feet of sensitive receptors. There are over two million people in California living within 3,200 feet of oil wells. Communities living close to wells experience health impacts such as increased rates of asthma, respiratory illnesses, lower birth weights, higher risks of cancer, and a greater chance of complications from COVID-19. Low-income communities and communities of color are much more likely to live within the 3,200-foot setback zone, making their health risks much more significant than their more affluent counterparts.
California should be celebrating a major step towards addressing these injustices. However, just days after Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB1137 into law, oil industry insiders filed a referendum to undo this historic step toward protecting Californian communities. Now, all the hard work of our most vulnerable communities over the last few years is in jeopardy. If the oil industry is able to collect 623,000 signatures by mid-December, the referendum will go on the ballot in 2024 and the health protections will not be implemented until 2025, or may be overturned completely.
Big Oil throwing money against grassroots efforts to attain better health protections is not new. In the last four years, lobbying organizations spent almost $77.5 million advocating on behalf of oil and gas companies interests in Sacramento. Right next door, the fossil fuel industry spent $7.3 million to stop health and safety protections for communities in Ventura County alone. Imagine what progress could be made towards transitioning to safe, renewable energy solutions if that money had been allocated differently.
Here’s how you can help: don’t sign the petition. Signature gatherers have been reported to lie and say that by signing the petition they are helping end neighborhood drilling, even though it would do the exact opposite. Make sure you know exactly what you are signing. Educate your friends, families, and co-workers about this campaign and tell them not to sign Big Oil’s referendum petition. You can also call Governor Newsom and ask him to show his commitment to protecting the health of frontline communities today by stopping all new permitting of oil and gas wells within the 3,200 foot setback zone, which he already has the authority to do. Call Newsom’s office at 916-445-2841.