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California Pitches 2024 Fracking Ban, 2045 Oil Phaseout as Campaigners Urge Faster Action

California climate campaigners marked a moment of progress Friday while urging Governor Gavin Newsom to pick up the pace, after the state that calls itself the world’s fifth-biggest economy moved to ban new oil and gas fracking projects by 2024 and phase out oil extraction by 2045.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said Friday, the day after Earth Day. “As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and 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.”

The New York Times traced Newsom’s announcement back to the recall petition he’s likely to face in the months ahead. The “ban and its gradual timeline were viewed as a way to appease the progressive voters he will need should the recall effort lead to a special election, as expected, while preventing the deep-pocketed oil industry from throwing its weight behind the recall,” the paper writes.

While Newsom campaigned on a promise to ban fracking, he took criticism last fall for failing to adequately promote legislation that ultimately failed, the Times says. “Last week, a sweeping bill incorporating that ban and other fossil fuel regulations was blocked by industry lobbyists and moderate Democrats seeking to protect paycheques in the oil-rich San Joaquin Valley.”

The latest initiative, “which would ban new fracking permits starting in 2024 and require more rigorous review of current permit applications, will involve a lengthy rule-making process by regulatory agencies such as the California Air Resources Board and the state Department of Conservation. The announcement does not affect existing fracking operations, which are already considerably diminished and now account for about 17% of California’s oil and gas production.”

Climate campaigners in California welcomed the announcement, but argued that the state must move much faster to address the health and climate impacts of fracking and other forms of fossil production.

“The Governor’s announcement comes after years of pressure from environmental justice, public health, labour, and climate organizations across California, who call on Newsom to stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits, phase out existing oil extraction, and establish 2,500-foot setbacks between oil wells and sensitive land uses,” the Last Chance Alliance writes. “While the announcement sets a vision for a managed decline of fossil fuel extraction, it sets a sluggish pace that fails to keep pace with science-backed timelines necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.”

While state modelling shows that a fracking ban alone won’t be enough to meet California’s emissions reduction goals, “mandating a 2,500-foot minimum setback distance separating oil wells from neighbourhoods would be more effective at reducing GHG emissions from extraction and provide immediate health benefits to front-line communities,” the alliance adds.

“It’s historic and globally significant that Gov. Newsom has committed California to phase out fossil fuel production and ban fracking, but we don’t have time for studies and delays,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the U.S. Center for Biological Diversity. “Californians living next to these dirty and dangerous drilling operations need protection from oil industry pollution today. Every fracking and drilling permit issued does more damage to our health and climate.”

“Of course this directive has a huge impact on our communities and is a historic public commitment to a just transition away from fossil fuels,” said Cesar Aguirre of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “But why do people of colour always have to wait? We have been asking for setbacks for years, and every day that we allow the inherently dangerous practice of neighbourhood drilling is an assault on our lungs, and it is an assault on justice.”

“We welcome the Governor’s  historic announcement that we need a just transition away from oil,” said Martha Dina Argüello of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “Yet we are acutely aware of the slow and often exclusionary nature of regulatory processes. Communities need immediate relief to the heath assaults of oil and gas extraction in the form an immediate 2,500-foot health and safety buffer.”

The Western States Petroleum Association vowed to fight the measure, the Times reports. “Banning nearly 20% of the energy production in our state will only hurt workers, families and communities in California and turns our energy independence over to foreign suppliers,” CEO Catherine Reheis-Boyd said in a statement.