EOPCA warns Newsom puts some citizens at greater health risk issuing new fracking permits -12 more issued pre-holiday weekend

Elected officials ask: Why is Newsom helping the failing fracking industry — a business that endangers our health more during a pandemic?

Amid a global health pandemic, with COVID-19 targeting the respiratory systems of over 200,000 in the state, Californian residents may soon be exposed to compounding respiratory threats from the result of more fracking operations.

During this unprecedented time when Californians are at their most vulnerable, big oil and gas companies have been lobbying Sacramento with greater intensity. Deviously, they have taken advantage of the pandemic to benefit from relaxed governmental regulations and pushed forward new fracking projects. This further endangers the health and wellbeing of thousands of Californians. Governor Gavin Newsom has walked back his promised goals of clean energy by handing out free passes, in the form of new fracking permits.

But between April and June 1, California’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) issued 36 new fracking permits which ended a moratorium that Newson put in place last year. On July 2, just as people were leaving for the Fourth of July weekend CalGEM issued 12 new fracking permits to Chevron in the Lost Hills oilfield of Kern County. At any moment 256 additional fracking permits could be issued in our earthquake prone state. 

“The oil and gas industry feared the drop in the prices of their products – worsened by the pandemic. They’ve been busy trying to ensure our dependency on fossil fuels by taking advantage of this life-threatening virus. They’ve been successful getting the federal government to roll back environmental protections and lifting restrictions to allow for more drilling. They’re gambling with our lives. We shouldn’t needlessly be putting more people at risk,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, Elected Officials to Protect California steering committee member. 

The industry is not a money maker. Fracking has much higher variable costs than traditional oil, and the well production is very front loaded. This means fracking producers need to drill new wells all the time just to maintain production. They were indebted before the pandemic. 

Elected Officials to Protect California (EOPCA) asks: Why is Governor Newsom helping a failing business, especially one that endangers the health of citizens more during a pandemic?

EOPCA and residents alike had high hopes CA would meet the state’s clean energy goals at the beginning of Newsom’s term. In 2018, the new governor pledged to protect vulnerable communities to push California beyond even the guidelines of the Paris Climate Accords to rely on entirely renewable energy sources by 2045.

The governor has upheld science and continues to promote public health when it comes to the COVID-19 virus, asking residents to wear masks. But when it comes to fracking, Newsom and science are not on the same page. EOPCA also asks him to look at the evidence that shows pollution particulates cause life threatening illnesses and to stop fracking, for unwittingly he is putting lives at risk. 

“I’m proud to serve on the steering committee of Elected Official to Protect California. Over 310 of us have already signed a letter asking the governor to take action now to ban fracking. I believe Governor Newson does want to protect the health and wellbeing of all Californians. I know we are in an emergency and COVID-19 is his priority. However, climate change is an emergency too and anything that contributes to it should stop. We must stop issuing any more fracking permits. Now more than ever, we need to protect the health and safety of all our people,” added Mayor Heidi Harmon. 

One of these permits has gone to the Aliso Canyon site in Los Angeles County, “the site of a record-setting methane blowout that spewed heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and sickened nearby residents.” Newsom had pledged to permanently close the storage site, but during the confusion of the pandemic, CalGEM approved the permit. 

“We need to let the governor know the serious threat fracking represents, as it adds to temperatures rising enabling the possibility of more pandemics. Together we are stronger. Together we can convince him not to issue any new permits. It’s time the state put our lives first, not the interests of the oil and gas industry. We need to ban all fracking now,” concluded Mayor Heidi Harmon. 

In order to extract natural gas and to dispose of their waste frack fluid, fracking requires pumping millions of gallons of fluid into the ground, contaminating drinking water and lubricating fault lines, which drastically increases seismic activity. An extremely seismically active state like California cannot handle the increased risk of earthquakes, especially under the pressures of living with COVID-19. 

Despite extensive evidence, the Newsom administration still refuses to acknowledge the impact of fracking on the environment and local communities. A Harvard study points to the starkly inequitable burden of the virus and ambient pollution, noting, “communities of color are disproportionately impacted by air pollutants and are more likely to face a ‘pollution burden’ … Particularly important for hospitals in poor neighborhoods and communities of color, which tend to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution than affluent, white communities.” 

The oil and gas industry’s blatant contribution to environmental racism is particularly insidious when combined with the “statistical link between COVID-19 deaths and other diseases associated with long-term exposure to fine particulate matter.”

Californians with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, especially those in low-income and minority communities, should not bear the burden of new fracking sites known to aggravate these medical ailments. Those exposed to fracking also face a higher risk of cancer due to the release of carcinogenic gases such as benzene, neurological damage on account of volatile organic compounds, and fetal development harm (NRDC, Forbes). 

Fracking also compounds water scarcity in California. Reuters reported in 2015 that California oil producers effectively destroy 70 million gallons of water a year to sustain operations, increasing drought levels drastically. Patrick Sullivan, speaking for Californians Against Fracking, states that “this is water that is by and large taken out of the water cycle for good… It’s too contaminated to use in any other way”  

The San Joaquin Valley, an area recently targeted for new fracking permits, is the food basket of the world, yet it’s also the state’s primary oil production region. 

“Recently we suffered through a six-year drought which made over 60,000 people in the San Joaquin Valley experience food insecurity. Children went hungry. Some people relied on water trucks for nearly two years,” said Felipe Perez City Councilmember, EOPA Steering Committee member. “Groundwater withdrawals by industrial farming operations and the oil industry—including fracking—have decreased the water table. They also pollute the groundwater. Without clean water people will continue to get sick. We need to stop the permitting.”

With a virus raging that specifically targets respiratory systems, air and water health should be of utmost concern to lawmakers and public officials. Human and environmental health need to be placed ahead of corporate profits. The fifth largest economy in the world should not continue to gamble on a poor return of residential health and state profits down the road.

Governor Gavin Newsom owes it to his constituents, communities disproportionately affected by the devastating combination of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and California’s renewable energy goals for the future, to stop the issuance of new fracking permits and promote a clean energy economy.

“With the stroke of a pen he could issue an executive action to halt all fracking. It’s imperative for the safety and well being of his citizens,” said Councilmember Perez. “Water is a human right.”

The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.

July 8, 2020


Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, Elected Officials to Protect America Cell: 207.319.4511