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California proposes a ban on new drilling wells built at least 3,200 ft from homes

Posted at 4:57 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 20:18:11-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Thursday, a California proposal to ban new drilling wells from being built at least 3,200 feet from homes, schools, hospitals among other locations, was announced.

Kern County is in a unique position, as it produces 70 percent of all oil and gas production for the state of California. However, according to several studies, the environmental impact is hefty and affects mostly people of color.

Some community members were very excited about the news and some opposed it.

“Living near oil and gas extractions is associated with a lot of negative health outcomes from birth defects and pre-term births to asthma, cancer, hospital trips, headaches, nosebleeds. All sorts of problems have been shown to be connected,” said Attorney Dan Ress.

It’s been a long debate in Kern County, citing the health issues Ress said are caused by the oil and gas industry.

On the other side of that is the financial impact. In the state, around two million people live half a mile from an oil well. On the other hand, around 14,000 Kern County residents depend on oil and gas jobs.

“You know the economic impacts are obviously very significant. Nearly $100 million in local state tax revenues from Kern County,” said Kevin Slagle with Western States Petroleum Association.

Ress said this proposal put forth by Governor Gavin Newsom, will not affect Kern County as much as other areas in the state.

“These giant oil fields don’t typically have people living in them in Kern, and so most of the existing wells would be able to continue. Some of them would have to move a little bit,” said Ress.

Slagle argues the issue itself is not the setback but rather the one size fits all approach and the policy that comes with it.

“There are setbacks, and there are also new rules that the state wants to impose on current operations that cover a number of things that they are hopeful will actually lead to drillers deciding to shut down because they are too difficult or expensive or in some cases impossible to implement,” said Slagle.

He added they believe each well should be looked at individually instead of having a blanket 3,200 feet regulation.

“Formally with 15 members of an advisory committee, you see Berkeley leading that effort and the overwhelming evidence came back that 2,500 feet was not good enough that we need to extend that barrier of protection,” said Governor Newsom.

Given this is just a draft rule which happens before a formally proposed rule, the state department in charge of the oil industry, CalGEM, will start accepting public comments for 60 days and then go from there until they finally submit the proposed rule. Attorney Ress said this might not go into effect until January 2023.

And with the push to move oil wells further away from those specific locations, 23ABC was curious about the reported health impacts of things like wells and refineries.

According to a study by the University of California Berkeley, there are several health-related issues due to those invisible fumes. Some of those include an increased risk of asthma, cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, and blood disorders among others.

The study also says minority groups tend to be more impacted, and are often closer to those areas due to "poor city planning and wealth gaps."

Also, according to an NAACP report in many African-American communities, the air violates ozone level standards.