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California to tighten oil and gas industry regulation

20 November 2019

On November 19, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new measures to toughen regulation over hydrocarbon extraction operations within the state. These measures are in direct opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to ease regulation to boost US oil and gas production.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The measures include a moratorium on an extraction technique that uses high-pressure steam to break up oil formations underground. The practice has been linked to a spill at the Cymric oil field in Kern County earlier this year.

Another will involve all pending permits for hydraulic fracturing undergoing a review by a panel of science experts.

The state will also begin a formal process to consider a range of options to protect public health from oil and gas operations, it said.

This is on top of the audit of its new well permitting processes, which started in July.

Of the 160 million barrels per year of oil produced in California, about 8 million come from the high-pressure steam operations, according to the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

In response, oil industry grouping the Western States Petroleum Association said that many state agencies already validated health, safety and environmental protection during production. It said that every barrel delayed or not produced would only increase imports from more costly foreign sources that did not share US environmental and safety standards.

California has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045 and phasing out oil production and consumption.

In parallel, the State Lands Commission (SLC) has expanded its assessment program for legacy wells across California to include offshore as well as onshore wells.

Based on SLC's assessment, there are approximately 200 high-priority offshore legacy wells labelled as Category 1 wells that could leak oil into the marine environment. When most of the wells were abandoned, there was no oversight.

Some of the legacy wells date to the early 1900s, and many more Category 2 and 3 (medium and low priority) have been identified, many of which have more information available regarding their integrity and abandonment than Category 1 wells.

SLC is working with DOGGR to implement the remediation of improperly abandoned legacy wells and removal work.

The Commission will also survey, study and monitor oil seepage in state waters and tidelands and partner with experts to facilitate innovative solutions.

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