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California decides to ban new oil wells within 3,200 feet of homes

Oil wells and pump jacks near housing developments in the town of Signal Hill, Los Angeles County, California.

Citizen of the Planet | Education Pictures | Universal Image Group | Getty Images

California lawmakers sent a bill to the governor on Wednesday that would impose a statewide buffer zone to separate homes, schools, hospitals and other populated areas from new oil and gas wells.

Senate Bill 1137 would prohibit the California Geologic Energy Management Division from approving a new oil well within 3,200 feet of residential neighborhoods, but would not prohibit existing wells in those areas.

The legislation is part of a larger climate package that Governor Gavin Newsom has endorsed in recent weeks. The decision comes after similar efforts to ban fracking and establish a buffer zone failed in a state committee vote last year.

California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state in the United States, but has no regulations on the distance between active oil wells and populated areas. More than 2 million people live within 700 yards of an operational oil and gas well and another 5 million, or 14% of California’s population, live within 1 mile, according to an analysis by the association at non-profit FracTracker Alliance.

Research shows that residents who live near drilling sites are at higher risk for premature births, asthma, respiratory disease and cancer. Oil drilling has disproportionately harmed black and Latino residents in major oil fields such as Los Angeles County and Kern County.

“The passage of this monumental bill is a tribute to the tireless frontline communities who have fought for their lives against fossil fuel polluters for years,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity of the Climate Law Institute, in a press release.

“California still has work to do on climate and environmental justice, but these protections are a big step toward a healthier, safer and more sustainable future,” Kretzmann said.

Other oil-producing states like Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas have already implemented various forms of buffer zones between communities and oil wells. California’s new restrictions will likely take a few years to take effect.

The buffer zone bill was part of a larger series of climate measures approved by the California legislature this week.

State lawmakers approved legislation to establish a goal of 90 percent clean electricity by 2035 and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Lawmakers also approved measures aimed at expediting carbon capture and storage permits and voted to expand operations at Diablo Canyon, the state’s last remaining operating nuclear power plant.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.