Coalition criticizes CA for approving 24 new fracking permits after a nearly six-month moratorium

  • Published on April 13th, 2020

The California State Department of Conservation has approved 24 new fracking permits in Kern Countyapproved 24 new fracking permits in Kern County, the center of the oil industry in California, during the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic and after a nearly six-month moratorium on new fracking operations.

By Dan Bacher

The California Geologic Energy Management Division (Cal-GEM) issued the fracking permits to Aera Energy, formed in June 1997 and jointly owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil.

Environmental justice advocates, conservationists and public health advocates were very disappointed by the approval of environmentally destructive fracking operations as coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths increase daily, although less than in other states due to Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order and other emergency measures.

“The permits are the first to be issued in more than six months, following a moratorium that was placed on the practice announced by Governor Gavin Newsom last November, which established a new third-party review by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” according to a statement from the Last Chance Alliance, a coalition of over 700 health, environmental justice, climate and labor organizations.

Last November’s moratorium on fracking came after the Last Chance Alliance waged a multi-year campaign calling on California’s Governor to protect the health and safety of communities living on the front lines of the state’s massive fossil fuel industry. The Alliance continues to urge Governor Newsom to address the public health impacts of California’s fossil fuel industry and lead toward a managed decline of oil production. The coalition stated:

“Now, more than ever, we need our elected officials to stand on the side of public health and safety. We celebrated the leadership that Governor Newsom showed last November when he placed a moratorium on fracking as part of a broader effort to strengthen health and safety protections for communities near oil extraction. We continue to applaud him as he bravely acts on the recommendations of scientists and public health professionals around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, as Cal-GEM resumes permitting an extreme extraction technique that we know threatens our health, air and climate, we again call on the Governor to step in. It’s time for Governor Newsom to double down on his public health leadership. We call on the Governor and his administration to listen to the best available science and public health data that tells us that our best chance to protect frontline communities and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis is to phase out fossil fuel extraction. The state can’t claim to be a leader in protecting public health until it does so.”  

The issuing of new fracking permits took place less than two months after Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance reported that the total number of oil and gas well permits issued in 2019 under the Newsom Administration rivals the number issued during the last year in office of former Governor Jerry Brown.

The Newsom Administration issued just 1% fewer permits for a total of 4,545 in 2019 versus 4,590 for all of 2018, according to the groups.

“The numbers give fresh urgency on the need to order a 2,500-foot health barrier between oil industry operations and people living as close as just yards away,” Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance wrote in a letter to Governor Newsom on the eve of his state of the state address. “Action on this and a start to phasing out oil and gas production in the state simply cannot wait for the results of more time-consuming studies.”

Read the letter to Newsom here.

It is no surprise that the 4,545 permits were issued in a year where oil industry organizations again dominated lobbying spending in California.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, placed first in the annual lobbying “competition” in California in 2019 with $8.8 million spent on influencing the Governor’s office, legislators and other state officials, a position it captures most years.

The San Ramon-based Chevron spent the third most money on lobbying in California last year, spending a total of $5.9 million.

When you add the $8.8 million from WSPA and the $5.9 million from Chevron, that comes to a total of $14.7 million spent of lobbying between the two oil industry giants alone.

Message Governor Newsom to stop new oil & gas permits during the COVID-19 crisis.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.