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Committee vote all but kills California anti-oil bill

south belridge1 (copy)

This is a view of oil production in Kern County's South Belridge Oil Field, one of the most productive in California.

A high-profile bill that would cripple Kern County oil production suffered a key defeat this week when it failed to win enough votes to advance in the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 467, aimed at phasing out several common oilfield techniques and establishing a nearly half-mile buffer zone around oil and gas production sites, fell one vote short Tuesday of passing out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

The bill was seen as a response to Gov. Gavin Newsom's request last fall for legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice known as fracking. But the legislation went well beyond what the governor asked for and drew opposition from unions as well as Central Valley lawmakers worried about its potential employment impacts.

DIVERGING VIEWS

On Wednesday, oil industry groups bid good riddance to a bill some viewed as unconstitutional while environmental groups vowed to continue the fight for what they called necessary health protections for minority communities living near petroleum production sites.

"Yet again, elected politicians have revealed their prioritization of fossil fuel talking points and interests over the people they are supposed to represent," Kobi Naseck, coalition coordinator for Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods, a co-sponsor of SB 467, said in a news release Wednesday.

But the bill was viewed as a job-killer by groups including the Western States Petroleum Association, whose president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, said by email, "There are better ways to balance the environment, energy, equity and the economy, and our people, ideas and experience are critical to developing those solutions."

FAR-REACHING BAN

SB 467 was introduced Feb. 17 by Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara. It proposed halting new or renewed permits for fracking, cyclic steaming, steam floods, water floods and acid well stimulation treatments starting Jan. 1, then banning them altogether five years later.

The bill would also prohibit new or renewed permits for oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school or other sensitive site starting Jan. 1.

The petroleum industry slammed the bill as an unnecessary measure that, besides costing thousands of good-paying jobs, would cut off California's domestic oil supply without reducing demand for fuel, effectively moving production overseas to countries with lower labor and environmental standards.

But environmental and environmental-justice groups supported the legislation as not only a step toward making California a model in the fight against climate change but also a necessary intervention on behalf of people who, studies say, suffer disproportionately from respiratory illnesses, cancer and birth defects because they live near oil-related facilities.

DIVIDED COMMITTEE

Four members of the Senate committee voted in favor of the bill Tuesday. Two others joined Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, in voting against it.

The two remaining committee members abstained, including the Senate majority leader, Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, who issued a statement afterward saying the world must transition away from the use of fossil fuels and address climate change but that "the bill before us (Tuesday) does nothing to foster that transition by reducing demand for oil in our state or in the global marketplace."

"It simply makes no sense," he continued "to replace oil produced in California — which has the strictest environmental standards in the world — for oil extracted from places where regulation is lax or non-existent, while putting thousands of our hard-working neighbors out of work in the process."

Although the bill is set to be reconsidered later this month by the Senate Natural Resources Committee, observers said Tuesday's vote likely means the end of the bill.

TO BE CONTINUED

Co-authors Wiener and Limón said in a joint statement Tuesday that although they were "extremely disappointed" by the committee's rejection, they remain "inspired by the coalition behind this critical climate and public health measure."

"We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities," they added.

Meanwhile, the Newsom administration continues work on new health and safety regulations affecting communities living near oil and gas operations. Following a series of public meetings since February 2020, the state Geologic Energy Management Division expects to release a draft rule later this spring many expect will include language on establishing a statewide standard for buffer zones between petroleum facilities and sensitive sites such as homes and schools.