California Issues First New Fracking Permits Since July

Fracking in California gets green light after 9-month pause; Aera Energy receives permits

California still has 282 fracking permits awaiting review.

the sun sets beyond pumpjacks operating at the Inglewood oil fields in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles
Richard Vogel/AP, FIle

FILE – In this Thursday March 6, 2014, file photo, the sun sets beyond pumpjacks operating at the Inglewood oil fields in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. California issued new fracking permits Friday, April 3, 2020. It’s

Editor’s Note: In a story published April 3, 2020, The Associated Press reported California officials had authorized the first new oil wells in the state since July. The story should have made clear that California officials had authorized the first new oil wells using hydraulic fracturing since July.

California regulators on Friday issued fracking permits for the first time in nine months, saying federal scientists had given clearance for 24 permits to Aera Energy for oil well stimulation in Kern County.

Another 282 applications remain on hold pending individual review, until a comprehensive audit of the state’s drill permitting practices is completed.

“Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory experts are continuing evaluation on a permit-by-permit basis and conducting a rigorous technical review to verify geological claims made by well operators in the application process,” said Teresa Schilling, spokeswoman for the California Geologic Energy Management division, or CalGEM. “Permit-by-permit review will continue until the Department of Finance Audit is complete later this year.”

Last July, Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the state’s oil and gas supervisor a day after The Desert Sun reported that the number of fracking permits issued during his first six months in office had doubled compared to the same period under his predecessor, and that senior managers were invested in oil companies they were charged with regulating. Newsom had been unaware of the increase.

In November, after reports by The Desert Sun about illegal oil spills across the state, and empty “dummy” project folders for risky cyclic steam permits issued without required upfront approvals, Newsom announced a moratorium on all new fracking and cyclic steam permits.

While environmentalists and consumer advocates were delighted with the halt, Newsom and other state officials faced immediate, fierce backlash from oil executives and employees, and from Kern County officials, where most of the state’s petroleum production is located. Kern County is in the southern part of the Central Valley.

“We are pleased that after a comprehensive and detailed review process, Aera received its first well stimulation treatment permits since last June,” said Aera spokeswoman Cindy Pollard in an email.

She added: “Following this very stringent and thorough review. …  We are certain that the people in California can have confidence that Aera, our industry and the state are all deeply committed to protecting public health, safety and the environment, while preserving the jobs of the tens of thousands of men and women whose families depend on the oil and gas industry every day.”

California issued 24 hydraulic fracturing permits on Friday, authorizing the first new oil wells using hydraulic fracturing in the state since July of last year and angering environmental groups who have been pressuring the state to ban the procedure known as fracking.

California halted all fracking permits last year after Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the state’s top oil and gas regulator after a report showed new wells increased 35% since Newsom took office.

In November, the California Geologic Energy Management Division asked for an independent, scientific review of its permitting process to make sure the state was meeting standards for public health, safety and environmental protection.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed that review, and Friday the state issued 24 permits to Aera Energy for wells in the North Belridge and South Belridge oil fields in Kern County near Bakersfield.

California still has 282 fracking permits awaiting review. State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk said the state now has a “more technically robust process” to review those applications, “including requiring additional technical disclosures to improve transparency.”

Fracking is a process for extracting oil and natural gas from rock deep below the earth’s surface. It involves shooting a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals at high pressure into rock formations, breaking them up so oil and natural gas can be pumped out.

Environmental groups want to ban the process, arguing the chemicals can pollute groundwater and release toxins into the air once the oil reaches the surface.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, criticized the Newsom administration for issuing new fracking permits while the state was on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the entire state shut down and kids out of school, what purpose could approving these fracking permits have now other than to do a solid for the oil industry when no one is watching,” Court said.