For Immediate Release, December 1, 2022
Liz Jones, (310) 365-9281, firstname.lastname@example.org
Newsom Administration Sued Over New Oil, Gas Wells Near Homes, Recent Spills
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued California oil regulators today for approving more than a dozen new oil and gas wells in Los Angeles and Kern counties, some near homes and schools, without conducting a required review intended to protect public health and the environment.
The lawsuit against the California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, comes just months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a landmark climate package into law, creating a 3,200-foot buffer zone between oil and gas sites and sensitive sites like homes and schools.
“The governor has taken major steps to protect Californians from oil-industry pollution, but his regulators undercut those reforms by rubberstamping new wells near people’s homes,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “Regulators need to examine the serious threats from these wells to people’s health, our air and water, and dwindling habitat for wildlife. It’s ridiculous for them to approve these wells and pretend there won’t be serious consequences.”
The first set of approvals is for drilling nine new oil and gas wells in Santa Clarita, near residential neighborhoods, Golden Valley High School, and Placerita Canyon State Park. The second set of approvals is for eight new wells in the Elk Hills oilfield in Kern County, which would add harmful pollution to an area that already has some of the worst air quality in the nation — and is already experiencing major oil spills.
For the Santa Clarita wells, the agency relied on a 1991 study conducted by the city of Santa Clarita that claimed oilfield expansion wouldn’t result in any significant environmental harms. The 30-year-old study doesn’t evaluate or even mention nearby residential areas or climate change.
CalGEM approved the Elk Hills oilfield project based on a 1997 study by the U.S. Department of Energy and Kern County. The operator, California Resources Elk Hills, is a subsidiary of California Resources Corporation. CalGEM served the subsidiary with a notice of violation earlier this year after a surface oil spill opened a sink hole near its Elk Hills operations.
In both cases the number of approved wells in the oilfields already exceeds the number originally covered in the decades-old environmental reviews, making the new well approvals invalid.
CalGEM continues to issue oil and gas permits with no meaningful analysis, despite being sued last year by the Center for failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. The law holds public agencies to strict requirements for environmental review, particularly where previous studies of a project did not cover the project in its entirety or failed to include recent information about the harms of the project.
“CEQA is our state’s bedrock environmental and health protection and community-right-to-know law,” said Jones. “It requires that communities affected by project proposals get full information about a project’s harms and the right to participate in the decision. CalGEM needs to fully disclose the harms of these oil and gas projects, get community input, and quit using outdated documents. It needs to comply with the law and do its duty to protect Californians.”
CalGEM’s role in protecting the public and the environment has become even more crucial in Kern County, where a state superior court ruled last month that the county would be allowed to resume oil and gas permitting under a local fast-tracking ordinance.
The oil industry has stated its intention to apply for thousands of new permits under the ordinance and its supporting environmental review, which are currently being challenged in court. Without the state’s intervention, the county could experience a rapid increase in oil and gas drilling without adequate study of its dangerous impacts.
The lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.