California proposes ban on new oil and gas drilling near schools, homes and hospitals

California’s oil and gas regulator on Thursday proposed that the state ban new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of schools, homes and hospitals to protect public health in what would be the nation’s largest buffer zone between oilwells and communities.

It’s the latest effort by Democratic governor Gavin Newsom’s administration to wind down oil production in California, aligning him with environmental advocates pushing to curb the effects of climate change and against the powerful oil industry in the nation’s seventh-largest oil producing state.

State officials called it as one of the most aggressive steps in the nation, and perhaps the world, to protect public health and safety from the dangers of oil and gas drilling.

Studies show living near a drilling site can elevate risks of birth defects, cancer, respiratory problems and other health problems. More than 2 million Californians live within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of oil drilling sites, primarily in Los Angeles county and the Central Valley.

“Extracting oil is a dirty business and it’s had a real impact on Californians,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California’s secretary for environmental protection. “Often we frame it as it’s about air pollution, it’s about climate change; this is really about helping communities and community health near these facilities.”

The proposal comes in the wake of a massive oil spill that coated Southern California beaches earlier this month when an underwater pipeline burst. Federal investigators are examining whether a container ship snagged the pipeline earlier this year and dragged it on the seabed. The spill has prompted calls for the federal government to ban offshore drilling.

Newsom was expected to address the proposal later Thursday in southern California. The rules are a draft that signals what the administration is seeking, but could be changed over a 60-day comment period.

This would be the first time California has set statewide rules on how close drilling can be to homes, schools and other sites. Other oil and gas producing states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania and even Texas have rules about how close oil wells can be to certain properties. Colorado’s 2,000-foot setback on new drilling, adopted last year, is the nation’s strictest rule right now.

California’s plan, if adopted, would also go further than the 2,500 foot (762 meter) buffer environmental groups sought.

“State regulators listened to the scientists, they didn’t shy away from proposing the largest setback requirement in the nation when it became clear that was needed to protect public health,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Environmental justice groups were encouraged by the draft rule but were waiting to see the details.

“The Newsom administration is sending a strong signal that oil and gas has no place in neighborhoods,” Neena Mohan, climate justice manager for the California Environmental Justice Alliance, said in a statement.

The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil and gas interest group, blasted the proposed rules as an “activist assault on California’s way of life, economy and people” in a statement from the association’s president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd.

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