Referendum on oil drilling buffer zone certified, headed to 2024 ballot

The state’s 3,200-foot buffer zone law cannot be resumed until November 2024 at the earliest.

Californians will have an opportunity to repeal a state law that prevents oil and gas drilling close to certain sensitive locations such as homes. 

California Secretary of State Shirly Weber announced the referendum received over 687,000 signatures and will appear on the November 2024 ballot. 


The backstory: Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1137, which was first implemented in January and requires all oil and gas wells to be at least 3,200 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, daycares, parks, detention facilities and businesses open to the public. 

  • In response to the law, some Kern County renters have been forced from their homes as oil companies have bought houses in communities within the buffer zone to work their way around the new regulations. 
  • The law also played at the center of State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk’s ouster. He issued new drilling permits at a 754 percent rate in the fourth quarter of last year – half of which were for wells within the buffer zone. Environmental groups responded by pressuring Newsom to fire Ntuk, who resigned last month. 

State of play: With the referendum officially moving ahead to the ballot, SB 1137 is being put on hold for the time being, meaning the state can continue issuing new permits within the buffer zone. 

  • The law will only take effect if the referendum fails in November 2024. 

What they’re saying: Newsom went on the offensive against oil companies in his statement regarding the referendum, calling them greedy for putting health at risk over their profits. 

  • “I proudly signed SB 1137 last year to stop new oil drilling in our neighborhoods and protect California families. Big Oil knows that California is moving beyond fossil fuels, so on their way out these corporations are doing everything they can to squeeze out profits as they pollute our communities,” Newsom said. “We’re not standing for it. California will hold Big Oil accountable, and it starts with passing our price gouging penalty to prevent extreme gas price spikes like the one we saw last fall.”
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