December 14, 2022
Almost three million people live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil well in California.
Across the state, industrial oil operations take place just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community risks of asthma, preterm birth, cancer and premature death. Too many community members have lost their lives due to the toxins they have to breathe daily. Senate Bill (SB) 1137, a groundbreaking law that banned new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, hospitals and prisons would have improved the quality of life for millions living and working near oil wells.
But on December 13, the California Independent Petroleum Association announced it collected enough petition signatures to overturn SB 1137. The measure had come before the legislature previously in various forms. The difference this year was that Governor Gavin Newsom headed the fight to pass this setback safety zone law.
Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) California has been fighting for these communities since 2017. EOPA California gathered 467 signatures from elected officials from 49 counties across the state to create safety setbacks, amongst other measures on the road to a 100 percent clean energy economy.
“We’re livid that the oil industry has gathered these signatures under false pretense, making a mockery of the referendum process. People have lost their lives prematurely because of being born within a zip code that has oil wells in their communities,” said Christian Brock, CEO of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA), Air Force Veteran, CA. “It’s outrageous that the fifth largest economy in the world still has these sacrifice zones. People’s lives should always come before corporation profits. We will continue to fight for these safety setbacks,”
According to records, oil companies funneled over $20 million as of December 2 to Stop the Energy Shutdown. But the credibility of the oil industry’s petition is in doubt as the signatures may have been gathered under false pretense. There have been widespread reports of petitioners lying to voters to collect the 623,212 signatures needed to get the referendum to overturn SB 1137. There are numerous voter fraud complaints, received by the Secretary of State’s office, showing signature gatherers claimed that signing the petition would lower gas prices, and other reports about petitioners saying it would end the practice of urban oil drilling.
Should the Secretary of State formally qualify the oil industry’s petition, the issue of neighborhood drilling in California will go before voters on the 2024 ballot.
“EOPA California’s fight continues for justice. The oil and gas industry has combated every form of setbacks, and this time has spent over $20 million on the referendum only to subvert that process to ensure they gathered enough signatures,” said Ramona Cornell du Houx, Communications Director of Elected Officials to Protect America. “SB 1137 passed with the support of the governor, legislature, and millions of Californians in frontline communities who are exposed daily to the oil industry’s life-threatening pollution from drilling. The passage of SB 1137 must be respected and upheld with the power of the people at the polls in 2024.”
For decades environmental justice communities across California have been fighting for the relief this law was destined to bring to them to improve their basic right: to breathe fresh air. These communities have been forced to live and work breathing toxic fumes, and endure spills, and leaks from neighboring oil wells.
California is one of the last oil producing states in the nation to allow oil drilling in neighborhoods. The state’s own independent scientific analysis of oil production found that proximity to oil production sites increases exposure to toxic chemicals and recommended science-based setbacks separating oil wells from sensitive land uses to protect public health.
“As an elected official who grew up next door to Kern County’s large oil fields, I’ve witnessed and suffered the terrible health effects and injustice of drilling next to neighborhoods,” said Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento City Councilmember and California Co-Chair of EOPA California. “The false petition gathering is no surprise to me. At every turn the oil industry has fought reasonable, responsible health setbacks. I strongly encourage the Newsom Administration to fight this petition with a legal investigation and to keep working with frontline communities to push for a rule that ends all oil and gas drilling within 3,200 ft of homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and farms to accelerate the phase out of fossil fuel production in California.”
There is a possibility that similar protections could still be provided through state oil regulator CalGEM’s ongoing public health and safety rulemaking process, which is unaffected by the SB 1137 referendum effort. In light of the petition, CalGEM should stand up for the rights of these environmental justice communities.
“With the oil industry petition, CalGEM should stand up for these frontline communities who have been ignored for decades. Their health and wellbeing should be paramount,” said Heidi Harmon, former mayor of San Luis Obispo, EOPA California Leadership Council. “SB 1137 finally brought hope to millions of people who have grown up breathing toxic air. Now, the oil industry is trying to turn back time using any means at their disposal. Our justice system will investigate the manner in which the signatures were gathered. No matter the outcome, EOPA California will continue to fight for true safety setbacks for the people of California.”
Eight funders of the referendum campaign each spent over a million dollars and are responsible for drilling within the authorized 3,200 foot setback zone putting residents at great health risk:
About Elected Officials to Protect America: Elected Officials to Protect America is a network of current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting the planet and people. EOPA is committed to solving the climate crisis, ensuring environmental justice, and protecting our lands and waters. EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, training lawmakers, and connecting elected officials to inspire strong environmental leadership.
EOPA California Chapter is a statewide, non-partisan network of California elected officials committed to protecting our communities, public health, and climate for all we represent.