CalGEM Permit Review Q1 2023: Well Rework Permits Increase by 76% in California
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On September 16, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1137 (Gonzalez, Chapter 1, Statutes of 2022) into law, prohibiting the issuance of well permits and the construction and operation of new oil and gas wells within a health protection zone of 3,200 feet from a sensitive receptor.
According to our analysis, the number of applications for new drilling and rework permits has increased since the passage of SB 1137. In Q1 2023, the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), a division of the California Department of Conservation that regulates the oil, gas, and geothermal industries in California, gave out 896 permits to oil companies to rework their wells. More than half of these permits were for wells located within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, healthcare facilities, or other sensitive receptors.
In collaboration with Consumer Watchdog, FracTracker Alliance has published an updated analysis of new oil and gas drilling and rework/workover permits approved by the California Department of Geological Energy Management (CalGEM), see this link for the full press release from FracTracker and Consumer Watchdog. The following article provides additional in-depth analysis of the permitting data to highlight trends and provide additional information. Summary counts permits issued during the first quarter of 2023 are provided in Table 1 below, and counts are compared to the first quarter of the previous year. An interactive map showing the locations of the approved permits is also presented below.
California Oil and Gas Permits: Q1 2023
This interactive map looks at permits issued by CalGEM in the first quarter of 2023. Permits issued within the 3,200-foot health protection zones are highlighted with red markers. Of all the permits issued this quarter, 62% were issued within the health protection zones.
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.
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Drilling and Rework Permits
|Permits by Well Types||Permit Count Totals|
|Oil and Gas Production||EOR & Support||O&G and EOR Totals||Well Stimulation||Plugging|
|Percent Change:||Down 100%||Up 106%||Down 99%||Up 51%||Down 99%||Up 76%||Up 40%||N/A||Down 57%|
|*Permits for Sidetracks and to Deepen wells are included in the Rework counts|
Table 1. Counts of new drilling and rework/workover permits. The table provides counts of permits issued during the first quarter of 2023 and compares the counts to the first quarter of 2022.
During the first quarter of 2023, CalGEM issued operators a staggering 896 oil well rework permits, with an elevated 62% of those permits located within 3,200 feet of a home, school, or healthcare facility, sensitive locations that would have otherwise been protected by Senate Bill 1137. While rework permits have skyrocketed in 2023, CalGEM has only issued one new drilling permit in California.
While this decrease in the counts of new drilling permits represents relief for future environmental degradation, the increase in rework permits particularly near communities and neighborhoods is a direct threat to the health and safety of Californians. Counts of permits issued within the 3,200-foot health protection zones are reported below in Table 2.
|CalGEM Permits Issued During Quarter 1, 2023|
|Permit Type||Total Count – Statewide||Count Within 3,200′ Health
Table 2. Counts of CalGEM permits statewide and within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, healthcare facilities and other sensitive receptors.
The large increase in rework permits is similar to the increase documented in the counts of rework permit applications prior to the beginning of 2023. Figure 2 below shows the trend of permit application counts submitted by operators to CalGEM over the course of 2022 and through the first quarter of 2023.
Following the passage of SB 1137, the counts of new drilling and rework permit applications drastically increased, with almost 1,000 rework permit applications submitted in just the month of October. New drilling permit applications showed a similar trend as operators rushed to get permits submitted prior to the implementation of SB 1137.
Figure 1. Plot of CalGEM permit applications, summed by month. The plot shows the counts of permit applications received by CalGEM for drilling new wells and reworking/working over existing wells. Counts were summed for the 15-month timespan from the beginning of 2022 through the first quarter of 2023.
Additional analysis of CalGEM permitting data downloaded from the WellStar Data Dashboard shows that CalGEM issued permits for rework and workover operations with a much faster turnaround than new drilling permits. The length of time between permit application submission dates and approval dates were measured for all permits approved during 2022. Results of the analysis are shown below in Table 3.
While new drilling permits allow for a new source of pollution and environmental degradation that will persist for decades, rework and workover operations also present the threat of serious health risks to people and the environment proximal to reworked wells. Average times required to consider and approve rework and workover operations were about half the amount of time required to approve a new drilling permit.
CalGEM should be more diligently considering the environmental health impact to frontline communities before allowing oil companies to conduct operations that degrade local and regional air quality and are exempt from California Air Resources Board emissions regulations.
|Permit Turnaround||New Drill||Rework||Sidetrack||Deepen|
|Average Time (Days)||89||40||32||50|
Table 3. Turnaround time for CalGEM to issue permits for all permits approved in 2022. The time spans between the submission of permit applications and the permit approvals were measured for all permits approved in 2022. Mean values for each permit type were generated.
The Take Away
California is the only major oil producing state to lack the most basic common sense public health protections. Permitting setback requirements need to be in place to protect Californians, and they need to apply to all extraction related activities and infrastructure that degrade local air quality and put communities at risk. FracTracker’s previous reports have shown that instituting setback restrictions for new permits will have a minimal impact on future oil and gas production statewide.
The peer-reviewed scientific evidence clearly shows that living closer to oil drilling and upstream extraction sites increases the risk of negative health impacts, including cancer and a multitude of birth defects in addition to preterm birth and low birth weight. Governor Newsom and CalGEM have the authority to protect communities from additional harms, and we urge the administration to implement the full set of public health protections outlined in SB 1137.
References & Where to Learn More
- For questions or specific data requests related to this analysis, please contact Kyle Ferrar, FracTracker Alliance Western Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Press Release: 1st Q Oil Permits Within 3,200-Foot Setback Zone Total 62% Of All New Permits Approved In State Action Condemned By Advocates, Consumer Watchdog Reports
- Newsom Well Watch has been tracking and updating the number of oil and gas wells permitted by the Newsom Administration in California since 2019. Click to see all the well permits in your community.
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