California proposes fracking phaseout, making good on Newsom’s pledge

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California regulators have released official plans for phasing out fracking in the Golden State — nearly three years after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared his intentions to do so.

The proposed regulation would amend the state’s Public Resources Code by including a clause “to phase out permits to conduct well stimulation treatments,” according to a notice from the California Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM).

Well stimulation treatments are processes employed at oil and gas wells to boost production, including hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — as well as acid fracturing and acid matrix techniques.

“While these methods are highly effective at increasing well productivity, there has been significant public concern about their potential environmental and health effects,” an initial statement of reasons from CalGEM said.

The proposed regulation, which would apply to projects both onshore and offshore, emphasizes that CalGEM would “not approve applications for permits to conduct well stimulation treatments.” 

Newsom first announced CalGEM’s intentions to initiate such regulatory action in April 2021, citing the need to “create a healthier future for our children.”

“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,” Newsom said at the time.

CalGEM’s statement of reasons behind the proposal described an aim of protecting life, property, public health and safety, while also mitigating greenhouse gas emissions related to California’s hydrocarbon sector.

The regulator estimated that in 2020 — the most recent year with available data — 12.1 percent of total oil and 16.6 percent of total gas in California came from wells that had at some point undergone well stimulation treatments.

While oil and gas industry representatives have long maintained that fracking is safe and necessary, activists have argued that the technology can cause undue harm to the environment and human health.

Following CalGEM’s publication of its proposed rulemaking, the Food & Water Watch organization praised the move as protective of “California’s people, animals, air and land.”

“Governor Newsom’s smart plan to phase out fracking caps off a decade-plus grassroots statewide campaign to end this dirty, poisoning process,” Chirag Bhakta, Food & Water Watch’s California director, said in a statement.

Following Newsom’s initial April 2021 declaration, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president and CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association, accused the governor of ignoring science and facts.

Such a phaseout, Reheis-Boyd said at the time, would “only hurt workers, families and communities in California and turns our energy independence over to foreign suppliers.”

The Hill has reached out to the Western States Petroleum Association for an updated comment.

CalGEM said it would be hosting a public hearing on the proposed rulemaking on Tuesday, March 26 — the day before the end of a 45-day public comment period.

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