2019 California Oil and Gas Priorities: Protecting People and The Planet From Pollution

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Kern County Air Monitoring

Kern County residents face some of the worst environment-related health impacts and poorest air quality in our state. Multiple nearby pollution sources, including agriculture and oil and gas infrastructure, continually fill residents’ air with contaminants. 

Clean Water Action has been working in Kern County since 2014 to advocate for community health protections and improved regulations on the oil and gas industry.

In 2016, Clean Water Action partnered with the Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), the University of Washington, Earthworks and the California Environmental Health Tracking Program to place three low cost Dylos monitors in Lost Hills to detect particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in real-time. 

Clean Water Action was recently awarded a grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to conduct air monitoring and reduce emissions in Lost Hills, a community located about 45 minutes northwest of Bakersfield.  It is immediately adjacent to and downwind of the sixth largest oilfield in California and abuts large agribusiness almond orchards. The town’s 2,200 residents, many of whom are farmworkers, are primarily LatinX and low-income.

The three-month CARB-funded study also included Earthwork's Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras that helped identify three gas-emitting sites that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. The study provided proof that, at any given time, Lost Hills residents are exposed to a minimum of 8-15 different VOC's.

Industry-related air pollutants also impact community health.  Clean Water Action also conducted a health survey in Lost Hills that demonstrated significant overlap in health concerns among community residents. The most-reported symptoms included headaches, nose bleeds, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, respiratory problems, cardiovascular issues, rashes, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. 

Jesus Alonso, the Clean Water Action environmental justice organizer in Kern County,  then helped residents form a community-lead committee—“Comite Lost Hills En Accion” (Committee Lost Hills In Action) to plan organizing and advocacy efforts related to environmental justice. A coalition that included Clean Water Action, environmental ally groups, and the committee successfully advocated for Lost Hills to be the first community to receive SNAPS (Study of Neighborhoods Affected by Petroleum Sources) air monitors as part of a three-month high-tech air monitoring project from the CARB (California Air Resources Board). Additionally, Clean Water Action secured a community air grant from CARB to place seven monitors in key locations across Lost Hills to monitor air quality for two years.

Clean Water Action is continuing and expanding efforts in Kern by conducting health and environmental quality surveys.

Underground Injection Control  

Clean Water has helped lead the effort to reform California’s oversight of oil and gas injection wells. After helping expose the thousands of wells that were permitted to inject into underground sources of drinking water, we have pushed for statewide reforms, including new Underground Injection Control (UIC) class II regulations, increased scrutiny for aquifer exemptions, and a new role for the State Water Board in overseeing oil and gas injection operations.

Clean Water staff Andrew Grinberg currently serves on the SB 83 independent review panel evaluating California’s implementation of the UIC program - a legislatively mandated project to provide recommendations for improving drinking water protection from oil and gas injection wells.

Legislation

Clean Water Action’s priority piece of oil and gas legislation is AB 345, which would help protect families and communities by creating a 2,500-foot required distance between oil drilling sites and sensitive locations including homes, schools, childcare facilities, and healthcare facilities.

Studies link proximity to oil and gas wells to a host of health impacts, including increased risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, pre-term births and high-risk pregnancies, and, in some cases, cancer. Proximity to oil and gas wells is also linked to water contamination, noise pollution, spills of toxic chemicals, and explosions.

Nearly five and a half million Californians—mostly people of color—live within one mile of an oil or gas well. People living close to oil and gas infrastructure often face multiple forms of environmental injustice.

AB 1440 by Assembly Member Levine is a bill that  provides much needed reform to the outdated statutes that govern management of oil and gas production by California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and the State Lands Commission (SLC). AB 1440 updates both the DOGGR and SLC statutes to reflect a modern understanding of these environmental and public health risks associated with oil and gas drilling operations.  AB 1440 removes language from current statutes reflecting the now-antiquated state policy of maximizing production, and expressly clarifying that DOGGR needs to put health, safety, and the public first.

Oil and Gas Wastewater Pits

California is the last major oil producing state to allow for the disposal of oil and gas wastewater by discharge into open, unlined pits - a practice that has contaminated groundwater in the Central Valley and in states across the country. After exposing this practice in California with two investigative reports in 2014 and 2016, Clean Water has pushed the Central Valley Water Board to launch a new regulatory program that has begun to crack down on the most polluting facilities. We have also used litigation to successfully close polluting pit facilities. Clean Water continues to push to prohibit this practice statewide.

Preventing Oil and Gas Drilling Expansion in California

Clean Water Action works in Lost Hills, a town within an hour of Bakersfield. In Lost Hills, pollution from major industries already has crippling impacts on the health and quality of life of local residents.

Trump’s Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan for new oil and gas leasing on public land in the Bakersfield region. This plan to reopen more than a million acres of public land and mineral estate to fracking and drilling is an unacceptable threat to the climate and to residents already burdened by pollution.

Those living in and around Bakersfield currently face crippling quality of life and health impacts due to pollution from major industries. This plan would worsen all of the health impacts residents currently experience, including: headaches, nose bleeds, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, respiratory problems and cardiovascular issues.

California has also failed to protect water from oil development by allowing the discharge of wastewater into open pits and injection directly into underground sources of drinking water. Expanding oil production will result in more wastewater, more dumping and injection, and more water pollution.

On top of endangering our health and our water, this plan would increase climate-change-causing fossil fuel production at a moment when our state must take the lead in transitioning to renewables and phasing out fossil fuel production. 

Clean Water Action will work with environmental allies across the state to resist this plan’s attack on frontline communities, water, and the climate.

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