California Regulators Approve Fewer Fracking Permits Due to Climate Change Concerns

California regulators have approved very few fracking permits this year because of concerns about climate change, the Associated Press reported.

Just 12 permits have been granted this year, a drastic decrease from 83 in 2020 and 220 in 2019.

California's Geologic Energy Management Division, also known as CalGEM, rejected 109 permits in 2021, the largest number of rejections since California allowed fracking in 2015, according to AP. About fifty of the denied permits came from Aera Energy in Bakersfield.

Uduak-Joe Ntuk, state oil and gas supervisor, told Aera in a letter in September that he could "not in good conscience" give them the permits "given the increasingly urgent climate effects of fossil-fuel production" and "the continuing impacts of climate change and hydraulic fracturing on public health and natural resources."

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom directed CalGEM to ban fracking by 2024, after lawmakers failed to pass a proposal, the Los Angeles Times reported. Newsom's climate change agenda includes a number of items, such as an end to oil and gas production in California by 2045.

Lawsuits have been filed by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and Kern County, where a majority of the state's fracking happens. WSPA argues that CalGEM must allow fracking if technical requirements are met due to state law in their lawsuit filed in October. They also said the denials amount to a ban despite no approval from the Legislature.

The state has until December 2 to reply to WSPA's lawsuit, while a hearing on the Kern County lawsuit is scheduled for Monday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Gavin Newsom, CalGEM, Fracking Ban, 2024
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has instructed California's Geologic and Energy Management Division to ban fracking by 2024, a measure he wasn't able to persuade lawmakers to pass into legislation. Above, an anti-fracking sign is displayed on day 11 of COP26 on November 10, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. Ian Forsythe/Getty Images

Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure water into underground rock to help extract oil and gas. It accounts for just 2 percent of oil production in California, but it is a highly controversial practice due to concerns over water contamination and other health impacts for people living nearby.

The denials are "a sign that the tide is starting to turn, and the state is starting to prioritize public health and the environment over the profits of the oil industry," Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Chronicle.

WSPA said in its lawsuit that the state's permitting process includes stringent requirements designed to protect public health and safety.

In his letter to Aera explaining why the state denied permit applications, Ntuk cited extreme heat, drought and wildfires as examples of the dangers caused by climate change. He argued that CalGEM must ensure the activities it regulates match the state's environmental, public health and climate change goals. He said a 2014 law that gave the agency permitting power over fracking does not require the state to approve permits even if applications are complete.

Kathy Miller, an Aera spokeswoman, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Fracking, Permits, 2024 Ban, California
California regulators are citing climate change as they deny new permits for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from the ground. In denying 50 fracking permits this year, the state's oil and gas supervisor said he was using his discretion to protect public health, safety and environmental quality and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Above, pumpjacks operate in Bakersfield in 2015. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo, File