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California Releases Formal Proposal to End Fracking in the State

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Belridge Oil Field in Kern County on Oct. 21, 2021. (Citizen of the Planet/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

California oil and gas regulators have formally released their plan to phase out fracking three years after essentially halting new permits for the practice.

The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) wrote that they would not approve (PDF) applications for permits for well stimulation treatments like fracking to “prevent damage to life, health, property, and natural resources (PDF)” in addition to protecting public health and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement in 2021 when he initiated regulatory action to phase out new fracking permits.

Hydraulic fracturing injects liquids, mostly water, underground at high pressure to extract oil or gas. Oil companies say fracking has been done safely for years under state regulation and that a ban should come from the Legislature, not a state agency.

“These things truly exceed the limits of CalGEM’s legal authority,” said Kevin Slagle, vice president of strategy and communications at the Western States Petroleum Association.

Slagle said the policy would include trade-offs for the state’s energy supplies. “They have been rapidly shrinking under this administration. And when you shrink supplies, that typically means higher costs for consumers.”

However, environmental groups say fracking pollutes groundwater and the air.

“Fracking is a very dangerous, climate-change-accelerating, water-polluting, earthquake-causing process,” said Chirag Bhakta, California director at the environmental group Food & Water Watch.

“We’re really happy that California is finally taking the formal steps to officially ban some fracking in the state,” Bhakta said. But he said the proposed regulations do not address other widely-used well-stimulation methods such as steam injection fracking.

This move will likely rekindle a longstanding debate over whether to continue producing oil in Kern County, where most of the state’s fracking occurs. State analysis (PDF) said the new plan would hurt the county’s economy and significantly lower their property tax revenue.


But Maricruz Ramirez, a community organizer with the nonprofit Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, who is based in Kern County, applauded the move.

“Fracking has long posed a threat to public health, clean air, and water. Banning it in California prioritizes communities over the oil industry, especially in Kern County,” Ramirez said.

The state has not approved fracking permits in the last three years, and oil and gas representatives say the state agency has overstepped its authority and that a ban on fracking should be in the hands of the Legislature instead.

The public can comment on the proposal until 11:50 p.m. on March 27. Comments can be submitted by email to calgemregulations@conservation.ca.gov or by mail to the Department of Conservation, 715 P Street, MS 19-07 Sacramento, CA 95814, ATTN: Well Stimulation Permitting Phase-Out.

A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on March 26. You can register here or join by telephone:
404-443-6397 (English), ​877-336-1831 (English), Conf Code: 148676
888-455-1820 (Español), Código: 3167375

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