Push to repeal California anti-oil law inches closer to goal

A California law that prohibits new oil and gas wells from being drilled near homes, schools and hospitals could face a referendum in the 2024 election.

Stop the Energy Shutdown, a campaign organized by oil and gas industry groups, said Tuesday it has collected enough signatures for a referendum to overturn SB 1137, the law that banned new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of highly populated places. It was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September.

The passage of SB 1137 was the result of years of effort from environmental justice groups across California who were trying to limit air pollution in poor communities and communities of color.

Oil and gas groups claim they have gathered nearly 1 million signatures to repeal it, but counties and the secretary of state must still review and verify them, a process that will go through January. Roughly 623,000 signatures must be deemed valid for the referendum to qualify. If that happens, the law would be halted until voters weigh in. It’s set to take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Industry proponents say the law will make the region more dependent on foreign oil and drive up gas prices across the state. They made a similar claim when Los Angeles County banned new oil and gas wells altogether last September.

“There is absolutely no reason California should be held hostage and export our wealth to OPEC+ countries,” Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, said in a press release Tuesday. “But by strangling our domestic supply, Governor Newsom is promoting greater greenhouse gas emissions generated in other parts of the world and making gasoline more expensive.” The group is leading the push for the referendum.

“Being from Kern County, this is something that I hear anytime any restriction or regulation is set upon the oil and gas industry,” said Cesar Aguirre, senior community organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “They just want to be allowed to continue neighborhood drilling when it’s proven to be dangerous. And that doesn’t matter to them.”

Campaign finance records filed with the California secretary of state show that Stop the Energy Shutdown has raised more than $20 million for the referendum since mid-October. Some of the donors — Sentinel Peak Resources, Signal Hill Petroleum and E&B Natural Resources Management — gave well over a million dollars each to the effort.

The battle over setbacks comes as Gov. Newsom has become more aggressive in pushing for legislation against oil and gas companies, including convening a discussion on taxing their profits.

Moves to decarbonize and regulate oil and gas companies have been happening at the local level in California as well. Earlier this month, the City of Los Angeles passed an ordinance banning new oil and gas wells and approving a plan to phase out new ones.

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Associated Press reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.

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Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.

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