2024 Campaign starting now: Defeat the Referendum on Oil and Gas Well Setbacks

Pumpjack with a great view of urban Los Angeles

A year ago, Governor Newsom signed SB 1137 into law—a historic win for environmental justice and public health in California. SB 1137 mandated a 3,200-ft buffer between oil or gas drilling sites and homes, schools, parks, hospitals, and other sensitive areas. The bill also blocked rework permits for wells within the buffer zone, ensuring existing wells would be phased out. This bill was a huge win for the health and welfare of our communities.

Practically immediately after the Governor signed the bill, oil and gas went to work to overturn it. Led by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), fossil fuel interests funded a $20 million signature-gathering effort to put a referendum on the ballot, asking voters to reverse the law designed to protect them. The paid signature gatherers often lied to voters about the bill to get their signatures, including telling consumers that such a bill would result in gas prices going to $10/gallon. But—it worked. The referendum is on the ballot in the November 2024 general election.

Defeating the referendum will be a major campaign for Climate Action California and allied groups in 2024

Research shows that living near oil and gas drilling and extraction operations leads to exposure to harmful air pollutants. Frontline community members living, working, and going to school near oil drilling are especially at  risk for respiratory health issues as well as negative birth outcomes like low birth weight and preterm birth. Babies born to mothers  within a mile of these areas also are at an elevated risk of serious birth defects, including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects. A study commissioned by the California Air Resources Board showed that babies born to mothers within a kilometer of these areas also are at elevated risk of serious birth defects, including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects.

Unbelievably, California, which touts itself as an environmental leader, has never had a setbacks rule on the books, while even places like Texas and Oklahoma have done so.  The fight to get us this law took well over ten years.  Back in 2013, the legislature passed SB 4 (Pavley), which stated that the Natural Resource Agency, by 2015, should conduct and complete an independent scientific study on well stimulation treatments, and then adopt rules and regulations to protect people and the environment from harm.  But that initial study led, in 2017, to requests for many more studies, and in 2019, the agency charged with overseeing oil and gas wells was enmired in scandal. It took action by the legislature, passing AB 1137 (Gonzalez and Limón) in 2022, to put public health protection on the books. 

Enter oil and gas interests, and the referendum.

So now—it’s time. The question is before the voters, who must be made aware of yet one more egregious example of the fossil fuel industry’s deceptive tactics, and vote to keep the setbacks in place. Education is the name of the game. We need to tell everyone we know — our communities, our favorite social media platforms, and our local media outlets —  what the oil industry is doing to kill SB1137 to pad their bottom lines and keep poisoning us.

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