Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen VOICE; Photo of Gov. Newsom by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Prince Story |

Following the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden on Aug. 12,  Gov. Gavin Newsom released a strongly worded statement on California’s clean energy plans, promising to institute radical actions to solve the climate crisis.

“Cleaning the air we breathe. Protecting our communities from the harmful impacts of the oil industry, accelerating California’s clean energy future, each of these actions on their own are monumental steps to tackling the climate crisis – but California isn’t waiting a minute longer to get them done. We’re taking all of these major actions now in the most aggressive push on climate this state has ever seen because later is too late. Together with the Legislature’s leadership, the progress we make on the climate crisis this year will be felt for generations – and the impact will spread far beyond our borders.” 

Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to work with the state legislature to ensure an aggressive push to tackle the climate crisis. [Source: Gage Skidmore | www.flickr.com]

One of the proposals listed on his list of to do’s is establishing a setback distance for oil wells from neighborhoods, schools, and parks and ensuring comprehensive pollution controls for existing oil wells within 3,200 feet of these facilities.

“Finally, after years and years of environmental justice communities asking for comprehensive public health setbacks, we’re seeing some real action on this acute public health issue. We’re ready to see the legislature follow the Governor’s lead and end the chronic crisis of neighborhood drilling in California,” said Dan Ress, Staff Attorney, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Low-income neighborhoods

The changes will significantly impact low-income communities and communities of color,  who are more likely to live near oil wells. 

Close to 7.5 million Californians live at least one mile from oil well sites, and nearly 3 million live within the 3,200 feet proposed setback mark, according to Vision, a coalition of environmental groups and allies advocates against oil drilling in neighborhoods. 

“The reality in California is that drilling doesn’t just happen in every neighborhood; it’s happened more often in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are not white or places that are Spanish speaking,” said Kobi Naseck, VISIÓN Coalition Coordinator.

Oil and gas production in San Bernardino County over the last four years. California is putting in place laws to ensure oil wells are not within 3,200 feet of neighborhoods, schools, and parks. [Source: www.drillingedge.com]

That’s when we start looking at the health impacts living this close to oil wells will have on the residents. 

A Stanford study titled “Upstream oil and gas production and ambient air pollution in California” found that proximity to oil and gas wells is an appropriate metric for air pollution-related exposures. 

These particles could lead to various adverse health events,  including death. Long-term exposure to fine particulate matter adversely affects the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and increases mortality risk; it may also exacerbate the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and worsen the prognosis of this disease, according to ScienceAdvances

“Black and Latinx communities face some of the highest pollution from oil and gas wells in California. If we care about environmental justice and making sure every kid has a chance to be healthy, we should care about this,” said lead author David Gonzalez.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to accelerate California’s clean energy future involves establishing a setback distance for oil wells from neighborhoods, schools, and parks and ensuring comprehensive pollution controls for existing oil wells within 3,200 feet of these facilities. (Source: www.flckr.com).

Air pollutants

Increases in pm2.5 concentrations near wells could mediate increases in the risk of adverse birth outcomes with proximity to wells in California.

A research study published in 2020 analyzed the proximity to oil and gas wells that affected the development and birth outcomes in the state of California. Data was collected on 2,918,089 births from mothers living within 10 km of at least one production well between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2015. 

The data was collected from the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, South Central Coast, and South Coast air basins. It showed that five percent of newborns had a low birth weight, 7% were pre-term babies, and 12% were classified as small for gestational age births. 

This oil and gas well setbacks proposal will significantly impact the lives of individuals living with toxins polluting their air for years.

Hopefully, it will enhance residents’ day-to-day lives in these vulnerable communities.

Prince James Story

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at Princejames@blackvoicenews.com or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.