Environmental Justice, AB345, and CalGEM

Communities Say NO to Oil Drilling, YES to Community Health

Governor Newsom recently issued executive orders and statements about his administration’s intention to fight climate change, focus on the impacts of oil extraction in the transition away from fossil fuels, and protect the health and safety of our communities. Despite this, a true commitment from Newsom and California’s regulatory agencies to rein in Big Oil and protect frontline communities has been lacking.  In fact, after supporting a temporary fracking moratorium in 2019, the Newsom Administration started to issue new fracking permits in April 2020 and has issued 54 fracking permits this year, including 6 new permits to Aera Energy on October 16th. 

In California, over 5 million residents live less than a mile from an active oil well, and suffer from the hazards associated with this proximity. A 2014 NRDC Report details a long list of environmental hazards associated with oil and gas development.  These include health concerns related to air, water, and soil pollution, as well as physical and safety hazards. Health effects associated with the air and water pollutants include respiratory,  neurological, and gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, and premature mortality. These health effects disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, who for years, have been leading the fight against the oil industry’s negative impacts. 

The video No Drilling Where We’re Living describes the impacts on communities living near drilling operations in Los Angeles.  Organizations such as The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE), VISION, and STAND L.A. have been fighting for environmental justice and policies which will protect these communities. 

Photo By Jen Ann Simmons

CalGEM and AB345

CalGEM, or the California Geologic Energy Management Division, is a regulatory division within the Natural Resources Agency’s Department of Conservation, and is responsible for the oversight of oil, natural gas, and geothermal industries. 

On February 4th, 2019, Assembly Member Muratsuchi introduced AB 345, a bill co-sponsored by CRPE and VISION, and supported by dozens of other organizations. 

AB 345 required “the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency to create an environmental justice program within the agency to identify and address any gaps . . . that may impede the achievement of environmental justice.”  

The original AB345 language included provisions to guide CalGEM to establish regulations to do the following: 

  • protect residents and communities near oil and gas extraction sites
  • base regulations on health, scientific and other data
  • consider a 2500 foot setback distance from schools, playgrounds, and public facilities where children are present
  • include measures to promote public participation in the rulemaking process. 

Current Status of AB345 and CalGEM Regulations

On November 19th, 2019, CalGEM issued a press release announcing its intent to “establish a transparent set of rules designed to protect residents and communities near oil and gas extraction sites.”  In addition, it planned to “consider a range of protective measures, including prohibiting oil and gas activities within close proximity of homes, schools, hospitals, and parks.”

Photo By Jen Ann Simmons

Unfortunately, the current version of AB345, after amendment by the State Senate, has gutted important provisions of the original bill and currently, there is no requirement to consider 2500 foot setbacks, and no delineated process for public participation in the regulations drafting process. However, Governor Newsom, in item 12 of his Executive Order issued Sept. 23rd, 2020, has required CalGEM to do the following:

  • Propose a significantly strengthened, stringent, science-based health and safety draft rule that protects communities and workers from the impacts of oil extraction activities by December 31, 2020.
  • Post on its website for public review and consultation a draft rule at least 60 days before submitting to the Office of Administrative Law. 

Currently, an AB 345 Coalition, comprising many groups involved in the bill since its inception, is organizing continued outreach and activism to support meaningful CalGEMS regulations.

Act Now, and Stay Tuned

What can you do to support environmental justice, and a CalGEM regulation which protects the health and safety of impacted communities?  

One call to action is to support the Last Chance Alliance in its current campaign to urge Governor Newsom to STOP, DROP, and ROLL: stop issuing permits for oil and gas drilling in California, drop existing oil production by phasing out existing fossil fuel production with a just and equitable transition, and roll out statewide 2500-foot health and safety buffer zones.

Another thing you can do is to follow our updates in the FFCA newsletters and website.  Fossil Free CA is participating in the AB 345 Coalition, and will keep you updated with information about how you can support meaningful CalGEM regulations. We’ll be following the CalGEM process and participating in the 60-day comment period which will be governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, as described by the Office of Administrative Law.  

Your participation in this public comment is needed and appreciated! Stay tuned!