CALIFORNIA DENIES OIL & GAS WELL STIMULATION PERMITS
Governor Newsom is taking action on climate by denying well stimulation permit applications—a welcomed move in the right direction—but unfortunately this particular action will do little to nothing to reduce environmental degradation for Frontline Communities.
On July 9th, the California Division of Geological Energy Management (CalGEM) denied applications for 21 new well stimulation treatments (WST). The applications were submitted by Aera Energy LLC, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company jointly operated by Shell Oil Company and ExxonMobil, for hydraulic fracturing operations in Kern’s North and South Belridge Oil Fields. It is speculated that Shell Oil Company will be selling their Aera Energy LLC assets as part of their bid to reduce their climate impact.
Oil and Gas Supervisor Joe-Ntuk Uduak’s rationale for the denials was reported as, “to prevent, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property, and natural resources” (id. § 3106(a)) and to “protect public health and safety and environmental quality, including [the] reduction and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the development of hydrocarbon… resources” (id. § 3011(a)).” A map showing the locations of the 21 denied permits is shown in the map below.
Map of approved WST permits and denied applications in the North Belridge and South Belridge oil fields
This map shows the locations of State Bill 4 required well stimulation (hydraulic fracturing) permits granted by the California Department of Geological Energy Management (CalGEM), as well as the locations of denied permit applications. View the map “Details” tab below in the top right corner to learn more and access the data, or click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article. In order to turn layers on and off in the map, use the Layers dropdown menu. This tool is only available in Full Screen view. Items will activate in this map dependent on the level of zoom in or out.
In total, CalGEM has denied 78 well stimulation permit applications under Governor Newsom, as of March 2020, and approved 95 following review by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The justification for previous denials was similar to the rationale provided by Supervisor Uduak above, although the first six denials on August 7, 2020 were actually withdrawn by Chevron prior to submittal for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, and three applications in the Belridge field were denied for more technical reasons related to casing failures in nearby abandoned wells. The majority (54) of applications were denied for operations in the Lost Hills oil field, operated by Chevron. These applications, along with approved hydraulic fracturing operations can be viewed by exploring the map above.
Governor Newsom’s decision was communicated by Erin Mellon of the Governor’s Office:
The Governor has been clear that we need to do more to combat the climate crisis and create a healthier future. He has also been clear that he does not see a role for fracking in that future. In April, the Governor directed CalGEM to prepare a regulations [sic] to ban new fracking permits by 2024. And the need for change is only more urgent as California is now experiencing accelerated impacts of climate change, from drought to extreme heat events to larger and more intense wildfires. The Governor applauds today’s action by the State Oil and Gas Supervisor to use his discretion under statute to deny 21 pending fracking permits, which will protect public health and safety and environmental quality and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. This is one of many actions the Administration is taking to reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the climate emergency.
Governor Newsom’s Fracking Ban
In response to criticism over CalGEM’s well stimulation and drilling permitting policies, Governor Newsom’s administration released pre-rulemaking draft regulations introducing a rule to end the permitting of hydraulic fracturing statewide, as of January 1, 2024. The DOC’s documents include a notice of the phase out public comment period as well as a draft of the new rule.
The Discussion Draft limits the proposed phase out to the use of hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing, acid-matrix stimulation and other well-stimulation treatments that enhance oil and gas production by creating channels in rock formations for hydrocarbons to flow. Specifically the rule excludes operations regulated as subsurface injections, exempting all forms of enhanced oil recovery techniques such as steam and water flooding and cyclic steaming.
This executive action taken by Governor Newsom is a welcomed move in the right direction, but leaves much to be said of the Governor’s ability to institute meaningful interventions to protect Frontline Communities and prioritize climate. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Governor Newsom’s administration insisted that an executive action to phase out fracking would be legally infeasible. Now, over halfway through his first term, it seems that was largely disingenuous. While the legal hurdles for a fracking ban in 2019 were considered momentous, now in 2021 they have been cleared with a stroke of a pen within a matter of weeks.
Unfortunately, this particular action will do little to nothing to reduce environmental degradation for Frontline Communities. The executive effort would have been much better spent instituting a responsible setback for oil and gas wells from homes and other sensitive receptors, and otherwise should have included enhanced oil recovery operations as they present a very similar public health risk as well stimulations. Since 2019 CalGEM has approved 277 well stimulation permits, all for wells located within the heart of large oil and gas fields. This number pales in comparison to the more than 1,600 new enhanced oil recovery (EOR) wells permitted in that same time, with nearly 700 of them drilled within 1 mile of homes, schools, or healthcare facilities.
FracTracker Alliance would implore Governor Newsom’s administration to work with Frontline Communities, in order to maximize the beneficial impact of future executive actions.
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