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California referendum would lift ban on new oil wells near homes

© iStock - Karina Movsesyan
Suzanne Potter

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(California News Service) A referendum on the ballot this fall gives California voters the chance to either uphold or reject a law which would require oil and gas wells to be set back 3,200 feet from sensitive areas such as schools and homes.

Senate Bill 1137 never went into effect. It is on hold until the vote in November.

Meghan Sahli-Wells, former mayor of Culver City and a board member of Elected Officials to Protect America, noted the referendum is funded by the fossil-fuel industry.

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"Basically, they're asking to continue to poison California communities, when California communities have fought so hard for these protections," Sahli-Wells contended.

Oil and gas interests argued the changes could phase out thousands of wells as permits are not renewed and raise gas prices. However, a 2022 study from Harvard University found elderly people living near drilling or fracking wells are at higher risk of early death from diseases related to air pollution.

A "Yes" vote on the referendum would keep the restrictions in place. A "no" vote would repeal them.

Alex Walker-Griffin, mayor of Hercules, said poor air quality near oil and gas wells disproportionately affects neighborhoods of color.

"This is an issue that will plague low-income communities, places like Kern County," Walker-Griffin explained. "Those households that are nearby, those are farmworkers, those are people who are already at a disadvantage. I think about the folks in Compton or Watts, they're going to have one more reason why their kids are more likely to have asthma."

The California Independent Petroleum Association said the law would prevent planned, new, in-state production, which could increase reliance on foreign oil and hurt oil-industry workers.