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SACRAMENTO, Calif. Sept. 21, 2020 — The Center for Biological Diversity notified Gov. Gavin Newsom today of its intent to file a lawsuit to halt illegal permitting of oil and gas wells in California. In a letter to the governor, the group says giving out such permits causes unacceptable climate and health harms and that the permits are being issued illegally, without the review required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Today’s notice cites a bombshell investigation into oil spills just published by ProPublica and The Desert Sun. The report details how oil companies in California have spilled more than 20 million gallons of oil, including in spills termed “surface expressions.” Instead of stopping the spills and imposing stiff penalties, the administration is allowing the oil operations to continue. Newsom is even allowing the oil companies to profit off their own spills by collecting and selling the spilled oil.
“The more than 1,500 permits for new oil and gas wells Gov. Newsom has issued so far this year aren’t just devastating for our health and climate, they’re also illegal,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “We’re asking the governor to stop the illegal permitting and start protecting Californians from oil-industry pollution. If he won’t, we’ll go to court to stop the flood of illegal permits.”
The letter particularly criticized the governor for allowing steam fracking, the supercharged oil-extraction process implicated in many of the spills. One Chevron spill detailed in the ProPublica investigation started in 2003 and has so far spilled 16.8 million gallons of oil, more than the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Crude collected from the spill has generated an estimated $11.6 million. The regional water board was “unaware” of the spill until journalists asked the agency about it for the investigation.
Steam fracking is extremely dangerous and has proven deadly. In 2011 Robert “Dave” Taylor died after falling into a sinkhole of hot oil and hydrogen sulfide that opened up under his feet. The operator, Chevron, was fined $350.
A moratorium issued by Gov. Newsom in November banned steam fracking on new wells but allowed operators to continue the hazardous process in existing wells.
Today’s letter comes as the governor faces intense pressure to bring his policy decisions into line with his rhetoric on the climate emergency. More than 750 organizations with the Last Chance Alliance have for years called on Gov. Newsom to take three urgently needed, common-sense steps to protect our health and climate from the oil industry: halt new oil- and gas-well permits, phase out existing fossil fuel production with a just transition, and require a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer between well sites and communities.
“This is a make-or-break moment for Gov. Newsom,” said Siegel. “He’s the one person with the power to take the big steps necessary to address the climate and health emergency created by the fossil fuel industry. He needs to protect Californians from oil-industry pollution in combination with other critical steps, like requiring 100% renewable energy and 100% zero-emission vehicles sales by 2030. Until he does so, the pressure and the outrage will only grow.”