Will Newsom end oil drilling in California? Many environmentalists are betting yes
California’s legacy of oil drilling should be just that, many environmentalists argue — relegated to the history books.
They are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to ban new oil and gas drilling in California and completely phase out fossil fuel extraction in one of the nation’s top petroleum-producing — and gasoline-consuming — states.
At the least, they want the state to impose buffer zones prohibiting new oil and gas wells near schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods and also require monitoring for potentially hazardous emissions from abandoned or plugged wells, proposals already being considered by state lawmakers.
“It sure would make us happy if he made a big splash about this. It’s month four. People are being very patient. By month six, patience may wear thin,” said Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips.
Phillips said her organization and other groups that support curtailing oil production in California have met informally with Newsom administration officials. While Newsom has not made any promises, expectations remain high, she said.
Newsom, who served on the state lands commission for eight years, says he’s well versed in the issues surrounding on-shore and off-shore oil drilling in California and said he would announce his administration’s detailed strategy on energy policy in the next few weeks.
The governor was coy about core aspects of that policy, and declined to say if it would ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracking, a process that uses drilling and large volumes of high-pressure water to extract gas and oil deposits.
“I’m taking a very pragmatic look at it, in scoping this,” Newsom told The Times last week. “It’s also an inclusive scoping because it includes people in the industry, that have jobs; communities that are impacted from an environmental justice prism but also from an economic justice prism. It’s a challenging issue. There’s a reason Gov. Brown used a lot of dexterity on this issue.”
The Democratic governor emphasized that he would not be “exercising passivity.” But Newsom also said that, despite his strong support for putting California on a path to a 100% renewable energy supply, it would be unrealistic to think that California can just stop its dependence on oil and gas.
“One cannot just turn off the switch. One cannot just immediately abut against a century of practice and policy,” Newsom said.
Though his campaign was endorsed by influential environmental groups that support curtailing oil production, Newsom must weigh the potential, widespread economic impact of undercutting a billion-dollar industry in the state. While oil production in California has been on the decline in recent years, California in 2017 was the nation’s fifth-largest crude oil producer among the nation’s 50 states, federal figures show.
Newsom also has a long personal and financial history with the heirs of the Getty Oil family. The governor’s father, the late William Newsom, was a longtime friend and former high school classmate of Gordon Getty, son of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, and managed the Getty family trust. Gordon Getty also was a longtime financial benefactor to Gavin Newsom, and for decades they were in the winery and hospitality business together. (The governor put those investments in a blind trust after he was elected in November.)
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., says Newsom will take a pragmatic approach. Oil production in California helps support 368,000 “blue-collar jobs with high wages,” she said, and the state still will depend on oil and gas for fuel and energy even during its long-term transformation to a 100% renewable energy supply.