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State lawmakers debut bill to ban oilfield techniques common in Kern

A bill introduced in the state Senate Wednesday proposes to halt several oil production techniques common in Kern County by Jan. 1, 2027 and incentivize well-remediation contractors to hire anyone the ban leaves jobless.

Senate Bill 467, submitted by Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, is expected to be amended in 30 days with provisions that would additionally 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 bill in some ways exceeds Gov. Gavin Newsom's call last fall for a bill to ban the controversial oilfield practice known as fracking, which accounts for only about 2 percent of California's production. In calling as well for an end to state permitting of cyclic steaming, water and steam flooding and acid well stimulation, the bill would likely idle many oilfields in Kern.

Environmental and environmental-justice organizations have recently increased pressure on Sacramento to constrain California oil production as a way of addressing climate change and protecting the health of communities living near oilfield operations.

Several advocacy organizations expressed support Wednesday for imposing the restrictions as a necessary step to shielding minority, "frontline" communities from respiratory problems, congenital defects and chronic migraines associated with living near oil operations. They also tied oilfield techniques named in the bill to seismic activity, sinkholes and surface and groundwater contamination.

Limón said in a news release the legislation continues decades-long policy conversations about petroleum and alternative energy production. 

“As I often say, ‘if there’s not a bill, there’s not a conversation,’ and it is necessary to have these conversations at the state level about environmental impacts and public health as oil production continues near our homes and schools," she stated.

The head of a prominent industry group immediately criticized the bill as a legally questionable attack on thousands of highly skilled union jobs "that cannot be replaced by low-skilled and temporary jobs in the renewable (energy) industry."

CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association said in a statement Wednesday the legislation would "virtually ban all production in California" and make the state more reliant on oil brought by tanker from countries with environmentally inferior regulatory standards. He wrote it would "devastate the economies of oil-producing regions — especially the Central Valley."

The legislation sharpens a brewing conflict between Sacramento and Kern, which is trying to make local oil permitting easier as the state's primary producer of crude. County staff have raised the possibility of withholding solar-energy permits as a way of forcing the state to address the potential damage its anti-oil efforts could cause to Kern's economy and government finances.

A summary of the bill released Wednesday said the five oilfield techniques identified in the legislation would be ineligible for new or renewed permits starting Jan. 1. They would be banned altogether five years later.

The summary says the bill would direct the state's primary oil regulator, the California Geologic Energy Management Division, to offer incentives to well-remediation contractors prioritizing the employment of oilfield workers put out of a job by the ban.

Newsom issued a major climate order in September that among other things asked lawmakers to present a bill that would ban fracking by 2024. In it he also called for swift work toward a buffer zone like the one proposed Wednesday.

Previous legislative attempts to ban fracking in California have failed. In 2013, the state's first fracking-related law overhauled the process as it is performed in the state.

In December, state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, introduced an "intent bill" to ensure any talk of banning fracking take into account the potential economic toll on the southern Central Valley.