GLASGOW, Scotland— As a delegation of Newsom administration officials attends the U.N. climate talks following the governor’s call for an end to global reliance on oil, a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity shows the staggering cost of the state’s approval of new oil and gas wells, the majority of which are located in California’s most polluted communities.
The state has approved more than 5,000 new oil and gas wells since Gov. Newsom took office. Today’s analysis looked at permits for 4,240 new wells for which data was available and found that 95% are in communities already burdened with the worst pollution (see map).
The analysis found that over their lifespan the approved wells will produce an estimated 144 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution — equivalent to the emissions from an extra 31 million cars on the road for a year.
Based on a recent estimate of the heat-related deaths caused by each metric ton of carbon dioxide, the wells approved by the Newsom administration could cause as many as 97,500 excess heat-related deaths worldwide by 2100.
Coming after Newsom’s landmark proposal last month for the nation’s largest health-and-safety buffer between communities and new oil and gas drilling, the analysis shows more must be done to protect public health and the climate.
“Californians have been battered by extreme climate disruption, and they need Gov. Newsom to protect them by slamming the brakes on new drilling,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “Newsom just proposed critical health measures, and he should build on that momentum by announcing an end to new drilling and dramatically accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuels on all fronts.”
The carbon footprint from newly permitted wells is particularly high because oil produced in California is among the most climate-damaging on the planet. Another recent Center analysis found that California oil is getting dirtier and heavier and now pollutes the climate more than oil imported from the notorious Canadian tar sands.
In addition to fueling the climate crisis, oil drilling operations release toxic pollutants that cause cancer, pre-term births and low birth weights, asthma and other serious health problems for surrounding communities. Today’s analysis used the state tool CalEnviroScreen to show that fully three-quarters of wells permitted under Newsom are in communities in the very top tier for pollution burdens, and another 20% are in the second-worst tier.
"The CalGEM draft rule is a promising first step towards health protections for frontline communities, and we hope the Newsom administration recognizes the need for both a stronger approach to ending existing drilling in neighborhoods and an emergency moratorium on neighborhood drilling until the final rule is released,” said Neena Mohan, climate justice program manager with the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Continuing to permit new drilling is illogical and harmful to EJ communities and the planet when Newsom himself has signaled that the ultimate goal is to phase out fossil fuels via a just transition."
Today’s analysis is based on California Geologic Energy Management Agency (CalGEM) data on new drilling permits issued from January 2019 through September 2021. The lifetime oil production and lifetime carbon dioxide emissions of newly permitted wells was estimated using the methodology described in Oil Change International’s The Sky’s Limit California analysis, using oilfield-specific production estimates over time, average well lifespans and emissions factors.