Protecting California from Oil and Gas

Oil wells and pipelines - Belridge Oil Field

California is the third largest oil producing state in the country. Oil companies pump about 200 million barrels of oil annually from 50,000 active oil and gas wells across the state, and operate another 50,000 injection wells. The  oil industry has shaped California's landscape and history, dating back to the late 1800's. Currently, between 2,000 and 3,000 new wells are drilled every year, half of which are fracked. About two thirds of California oil production is associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR), the process of injecting water or steam into wells to loosen the thick crude oil in our geology.

The Stakes are High

As California suffers from its worst drought in history, preventing contamination of our existing water supply is vital.  Clean Water Action is focused on safeguarding our statewide water supply and the communities most impacted by the oil and gas industry. With a changing climate potentially leading to  more water shortages and worsening air quality, stopping  damage at the hands of the oil industry is an urgent priority for all Californians.

Kern County is Oil Country

Kern County is the epicenter of California's oil industry, accounting for 80% of the oil produced in the state, and home to 95% of the fracking. As one of the most polluted parts of the state, the Central Valley already experiences  some of the worst air quality in the country and has asthma rates three times the national average. The Valley has also been hit hard by the drought and groundwater contamination.  Clean Water Action is working with communities in Kern to expose the health and environmental threats posed by  the oil industry, and increase the protections for those living closest to oil production facilities.

A History of Looking the Other Way

The oil industry has enjoyed preferential treatment from local and state regulators and elected officials, who have historically turned a blind eye to pollution from oil and gas facilities, requiring little accountability in the industry for protecting natural resources or public health. The oil and industry is the biggest spender on lobbying in California, holding immense power over elected officials who rely on campaign contributions from polluters. The oil industry has spent $130 million on lobbying over the last decade, and has increased their expenditures in recent years, with a whopping  $11 million spent in the third quarter of the 2015, coinciding with the end of the Legislative session.

Making Progress on Reform in Sacramento

Our leadership in Sacramento has led to numerous legislative and regulatory improvements and our work at the local level in Kern County has helped expose the most egregious cases of the oil industry's negligence and pollution. Clean Water Action has lead the way, exposing the threats of oil production, fracking, wastewater disposal and health impacts. We're partnering with impacted communities, allies and legislators, who understand the threats posed by the industry to pass new laws to change how the State regulates oil and gas production and other activities to put California's water and communities first.

After  a century of inadequate oversight by  California regulators, the era of oil and gas receiving preferential treatment is coming to an end.  

Recent Clean Water Action Oil and Gas Victories:

  • SB 4 (Pavley), enacted in 2013. Required the state to regulate fracking and acidizing for the first time ever, including a first of its kind groundwater monitoring program and the strongest chemical transparency requirements in the country. This bill also required the first ever state sanctioned research on fracking and other forms of well stimulation. 
  • SB 1281 (Pavley), enacted in 2014. Exposes the amount of water used by oil companies and their wastewater disposal methods.
  • Budget victories in 2015. Authorized the State Water Resources Control Board to oversee injection well permitting and to review aquifer exemption applications.
  • Exposing the risks of fracking. As a result of SB 4, in 2015, the California Council on Science and Technology  (CCST) released the first ever state sanctioned, scientific research on fracking.
  • Overhauling broken regulatory programs (in progress). The State is in the midst of an overhaul of the Underground Injection Control Program and is set to begin to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas facilities. State and regional regulators are also beginning to oversee disposal into open pits after years of turning a blind eye to this issue.

More Resources