Ending Oil and Gas Extraction in California

Neighborhood oil drilling in Signal Hill. Photo by Tara Pixley / Earthjustice.

California is leading the country in renewable energy and making progress every day, but it’s also the number seven state in the country for oil production. There are about 105,000 oil and gas wells throughout California, 80 percent of which are in Kern County. Culver City and Los Angeles are also hotspots for urban oil and gas drilling. 

These oil and gas operations disproportionately harm lower-income, working-class communities and people of color. About 35,000 of the wells in California are idle, but both active and inactive wells release pollution that threatens public health and the environment. 

In communities near extraction sites, residents experience higher rates of cancer, asthma, nausea, dizziness, nose bleeds, headaches, and birth complications, some of which are likely caused by proprietary chemicals used in the extraction process. Uncapped wells release carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde as well as methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Wells can continue to release those chemicals even years after they’ve been abandoned, in some cases prompting emergency evacuations

After years of advocacy from environmental justice communities, California is finally set to institute 3,200-foot health and safety buffer zones between oil and gas operations and homes, schools, and hospitals. Thanks to the leadership of the VISIÓN coalition, this common-sense policy applies not only to new wells, but also to rework permits on existing operations, effectively ending all drilling in the setback zone in the near future.

Even with this win, pipelines, pollution from truck traffic, and the risk of land-based spills and catastrophic accidents mean that there is no safe distance from oil and gas infrastructure. 

Closing wells can be expensive. So far, the corporations responsible have refused to clean up the mess they made, instead spending millions of dollars lobbying to block climate action and pass the burden to taxpayers. To make matters worse, it’s more expensive to cap and clean urban wells, meaning people in places like Los Angeles County are receiving even less support. 

The Climate Center is working with our allies to ensure that no new wells are permitted as we urge state leaders to phase out existing oil and gas operations. Idle wells need to be closed, capped, and cleaned. Active wells need to be phased out on an ambitious timeline that helps transition oil and gas workers to safer jobs in the clean energy economy.

The climate risks of oil and gas wells are clear. Even if California follows through on renewable energy development, clean microgrids, sustainable transportation, and building electrification, the millions of barrels of oil we produce every year have an unacceptable impact on the climate. To align with the latest science and secure climate justice for all, California must phase out oil and gas extraction as soon as possible while ensuring a just transition for workers.

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