California Gov. Gavin Newsom cracked down on oil producers Tuesday, halting approval of hundreds of fracking permits until independent scientists can review them, while temporarily banning another drilling method that regulators believe is linked to one of the largest spills in state history.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources announced it will not approve new wells that use high-pressure steam to extract oil from underground. It’s the type of process Chevron used at an oil field near McKittrick that leaked more than 1.3 million gallons (4.9 million liters) of oil and water this summer.

That process is different from fracking, which uses water and other chemicals at high pressure to extract oil. California has 263 pending fracking permits but has not approved any of them since July. That’s when Newsom fired California’s top oil and gas regulator after learning the state had increased fracking permits by 35 percent since he took office in January, angering environmental groups.

Newsom, a Democrat, called the crackdown necessary to strengthen the state’s oversight of oil and gas extraction “as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources.”

“This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment and our economy,” Newsom said.

While conservation groups praised the state’s new initiatives, some members of the oil industry called the changes “disappointing.”

Western States Petroleum Association said California’s environmental regulations already lead the world.

“Every barrel delayed or not produced in this state will only increase imports from more costly foreign sources that do not share our environmental safety standards,” group president Catherine Reheis-Boyd.

The new changes will inordinately impact Kern County, where 78 percent of the state’s active wells are located the Kern Economic Development Corporation reported in 2017.

“The bulk of Kern County's new oil production will be severely impacted by this policy, as well as future capital investment by the producers,” State Sen. Shannon Grove said in a statement. “If those producers cannot confidently invest in this area, then they will invest elsewhere. The reduction in capital investment will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the next twelve months."

Local oil producer Chad Hathaway said the rule changes were the result of “Big Environmental” gaining the ear of the legislature. He defended high-pressure steam oil extraction, which he said had been going on safely for decades.

“If you think about how much oil has been produced by thermal recovery and the amounts of accidents that have happened over the course of 60 years, our safety record has blown other people out of the water,” he said.

The state’s moratorium will be in place while two national laboratories — Lawrence Livermore and Sandia — study the high-pressure steam process to see what regulations, if any, can make it safer. Other wells in California use the steam method and have not had any spills.

“These oil leaks cannot be the cost of doing business,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. “There needs to be a clear trajectory to eliminate them. Not reduce them in number, but fully eliminate them.”

The moratorium will not affect existing wells, which will be assessed individually. Some existing wells have been using high-pressure steam for so long that stopping it could weaken the geology and cause more spills, Crowfoot said.

Officials said they would seek an independent audit of California’s permitting process for fracking and other types of oil extraction.

In July, advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker revealed the state’s fracking permits had doubled during the first six months of Newsom’s administration. The groups said that of those permits, 45 percent benefited companies where state officials owned stock.

Gordon Nipp, vice-chair of the Kern-Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club, warned Kern County that the state’s regulations could just be the first step in a gradual abandonment of oil.

“Whether it’s these regulations or more regulations coming down the pipe, science says that we have to transition away form the use of fossil fuels if we care at all about leaving a livable planet for the next generations,” he said. “We all ought to be thinking about this and figuring out what we’re going to do about it.”

(8) comments

Bayesian

Just a minor point/question regarding the statement which read in part " . . . that leaked more than 1.3 million gallons (4.9 million liters) of oil and water this summer." Is there a reason why the metric conversion was used? I mean we can all relate to gallons. What was the point of providing the amount in liters? Is this article going world wide?

KMR

Thank you WSPA, State Senator Shannon Grove, and Chad Hathaway for publicly advocating for oil and gas production in California.

mrdwm1

Halting new permits until, "independent scientists can review them". Must be all those pseudo-professionals who are now unemployed since the global warming scam was outed.

Steelerman

@mrdwm It never ceases to amaze me how many people remain willfully ignorant and in denial about global warming. Btw, specifically when was the "global warming scam outed?" Also, I did not realize global warming was a LGBTQ issue. Maybe a pseudo-professional like yourself could explain. Then again, probably not.

Veritas

Steeler I have no problem with your points about global warming and that it is not a scam. What I am confused about is your last point. Where does mrdwm1 say or even imply that global warming is LGBTQ issue?? Do you think the term pseudo-professional refers in some way to LGBTQ individuals? It’s definition is more or less a wanna be professional. I am just curious how you arrived at your last point.

Steelerman

@Veritas The term "outed" is often a specific reference to people that are publicly revealed to be gay, lesbian...without their consent. It was immediately obvious to me that mrdwm had confused himself (not surprised) on the climate crisis by using that term. I was pointing how mrdwm was using the wrong word to describe pseudo-professionals. I used the term pseudo-professional, which I believe was intended to mean pseudo-scientist or pseudo-intellectual, because mrdwm also inaccurately used it and I wanted to point out how willfully ignorant he is. His remark about pseudo-professionals and their alleged lack of employment was nonsensical and without merit. He is reflective of the rampant anti-intellectualism that has infected the minds like a virus of many narrow-minded people who falsely believe that their ignorance is equal to knowledge.

Veritas

Yes, I agree that the term “outed” can refer to someone from the LGBTQ community who’s orientation has been revealed without their consent. But, this term has been around a long time and was not coined specifically to denigrate LGBTQ individuals. Outed by definition is: confidentiality announced, confidentiality revealed, cover blown, identity revealed. So in other words, how do you know he/she used this term for what you claim? In reading your response to me and then re-reading what mrdwm wrote it looks to me like you are labeling him/her unfairly with basically no clear facts to do so.

Thank you for your response on your interpretation of his/her use of ‘pseudo-professional’ in his/her implied slam on scientists and other field related professionals. Now I understand that part.

Bodysnatcher

Newsome is a fracking hater and a fracking idiot.

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