Last year California celebrated a major victory in the passing of SB 1137 (Gonzalez, Limon), a bill meant to ensure that oil companies wouldn’t be able to drill new oil wells within 3,200 feet of vulnerable locations such as hospitals and schools. This would have created a protective bubble around communities that have historically suffered due to their proximity to California’s highly urbanized oil industry. Health risks associated with living near an oil well include childhood asthma, birth defects, cancer, and so much more. SB 1137 was also a major victory in the fight against environmental injustice, as the majority of communities that live near oil drilling sites are low-income and communities of color.
Major oil companies, however, decided that personal profit is worth more than the lives of thousands of Californians, and immediately began a campaign to freeze the bill and have it put on the November 2024 election ballot. This would allow them to continue to drill in these sensitive areas for two more years, ignoring health consequences as they continue to line their wallets.
While Big Oil thinks they’ve won a battle, they’re about to lose the war.
Big Oil is trying to take a page from the flavored tobacco handbook, calculating that the cost of placing an initiative on the ballot will be more than offset by the profits generated from an extra 2 years of oil production in health-sensitive locations. The impact on the lives of the 7 million Californians who live near these wells is not a factor in their decision.
Governor Newsom has the authority to deny permits to companies that want to drill in the buffer zone. He can tell his regulators, the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), to finalize the regulations they’ve been working on for over a year - which included a buffer zone.
Even more important, we now have the power to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities by voting YES on SB 1137 when it appears on our ballot next year.