Dec 25, 2019
by Gary Pace M.D.
In late November, Governor Newsom took a dramatic step in moving towards some actual solutions to the climate crisis. By limiting new oil and gas drilling in California, he has gone beyond rhetoric and acted to stop the destructive practices that are causing climate and health problems. This opens the door for significant change at the local level.
California, despite our reputation as an environmental leader, is the third leading producer of oil and gas in the country. New licenses for drilling were approved with increasing frequency during Governor Brown’s last 6 months in office.
As a practicing physician and a County Public Health Officer, I am seeing firsthand the health impacts from climate change. The science is not in question, and the negative effects that have been predicted for several years are landing in our laps now.
● Any chance at keeping temperatures below disastrous levels requires us to stop drilling for more oil ASAP, and to quickly shift to other forms of energy.
● Sonoma County residents are living with the results of increasing greenhouse gases. They make fires, extreme heat, floods, and power outages more likely. The scientists say that these risks will almost certainly worsen.
● In 2015, the California Council on Science and Technology made a comprehensive report on health impacts on people living near drilling sites and called for significant protections. Four years later, Governor Newsom has finally taken some steps to help.
Starting to significantly limit the extraction and processing of oil and gas is only the first step, but it is the essential move that until recently, no leader had been willing to take.
● A moratorium on new oil wells that use a specific high-pressure steam technique, such as the one linked with a recent large oil spill near Bakersfield.
● New limits on a different process, “fracking,” that involves shooting a stream of water and chemicals into rock to extract oil or gas. Moving forward, any pending or new applications for fracking projects must be reviewed by expert scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
● Closer oversight and the adoption of buffer zones around oil wells that are located near residential neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals. Currently, wells are often placed very near to homes and schools.
There are strong forces at work to fight these human-centered efforts. We can expect the petroleum companies to fight these changes vigorously. For example, the Trump administration just finalized plans to open thousands of acres of protected federal land in Central California to new oil and gas leases. In a separate setback for them, California’s top oil and gas regulator was recently fired when his stock ownership in the very companies he was monitoring was uncovered.
Worries about jobs, tax bases, and the ability to meet our transportation and energy needs are extremely important. But, from my point of view, the tax losses, economic devastation, and health concerns caused by these climate disasters in Sonoma and neighboring Counties also carry weight.
Our county is a leader — the number of electric vehicles and solar continues to increase, Sonoma Clean Power has shifted the energy equation in a “green” direction, and five of ten local jurisdictions have declared a “climate emergency.” This move by the Governor is a brave step which supports Sonoma County’s efforts and is directly aimed at protecting the health of the people of California. I want to commend him and his staff for moving forward with the essential business of wisely preparing for our new future.
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