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California halts new fracking permits

Greta Mart/KCBX
A pumpjack at the Arroyo Grande Oil Field

California Governor Gavin Newsom's administration has announced the state will issue no new fracking permits for oil companies. 

The California Department of Conservation says in the interest of public health and safety it will issue no new permits for  companies that would use high-pressure steam to break oil formations below ground.

The state is also requesting an independent audit of its permitting process. Pending applications will be independently reviewed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, to ensure they meet state safety and environmental standards.

The state plans to review records from recent oil and water leaks in Kern County to see if steam fracking can be done safely. Such leaks are now illegal under regulations that went into effect in April.  The state will also establish a new set of public health and safety rules for areas near oil and gas extraction sites. 

Critics of the plan say will cost Kern County hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and will increase our reliance on oil from other countries that do not have California's environmental standards.

In San Luis Obispo County, many are wondering how the new policies will affect the Arroyo Grande Oil Field, located in Price Canyon near Pismo Beach.

A spokesperson with the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) emailed on behalf of oil field owner Sentinel Peak Resources.

“The governor’s actions relate to hydraulic fracturing and high pressure steam injection, both of which do not pertain to operations at San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Oil Field," said CIPA spokesperson Sabrina Lockhart.

But Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said Sentinel Peak's plan to expand operations at Price Canyon makes it one of the biggest oil proposals in the state.

"It's not clear how directly this announcement is going to affect the oil field at Price Canyon," Siegel said. "But, what is clear is that the doubling of the oilfield there, that the oil companies want to do, can't happen without approvals from both state regulators and county officials."

Sentinel Peak Resources has applied for an expansion project to San Luis Obispo County, and a hearing before the planning commission is expected in February or March.

Steam methods are currently used to extract oil from the Arroyo Grande Oil Field, but not at the higher pressures like those shut down this week by the governor. 

As part of the new initiative, the state will evaluate all pending oil company applications for fracturing and other well stimulation methods.

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