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Environmental group sues to block oil wells near California homes

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — An environmental group sued Thursday to block nearly two dozen new permits for oil and gas wells in California, arguing Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration did not properly consider how the drilling would affect the environment.

A lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity says the California Geologic Energy Management Division in December approved 15 new oil and gas wells in Long Beach. The lawsuit says state officials relied on a 50-year-old environmental impact report that did not consider climate change or health effects.

The lawsuit says another six permits approved in San Luis Obispo County also relied on an outdated analysis prepared in 2004.

Most of the wells were within 3,200 feet (975.36 meters) of homes and community-gathering sites despite Newsom signing a law in September that would have banned such permits. That law was put on hold in February because the oil industry qualified a referendum for the 2024 election asking voters to overturn it.

Jacob Roper, a spokesman for the California Geologic Energy Management Division, declined to comment.

The future of oil and gas in California has been the topic of immense lobbying and political wrangling. Representatives from the industry have accused Newsom of taking actions that threaten jobs and the future of the industry, while environmental and community groups say that his administration isn’t acting fast enough to eliminate neighborhood drilling.

Newsom has announced a goal to end fracking — a method used to extract oil from rock — by next year. He has also pledged to end all oil production in the state by 2045. Since then, Liz Jones, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said California has seen a decline in fracking permits — including seeing some permits denied because of their potential effect on the climate.

But in the first three months of 2023, 62% of the 897 oil well permits issued by the state were to reestablish wells within 3,200 feet (975.36 meters) of sensitive areas like homes and schools, according to Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group.

“Although the governor has done some really major and historic things, we really want to see the regulators here held accountable for rubber-stamping permits that are near where people are living and playing,” Jones said.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the wells approved in Long Beach are on an artificial island within 1,000 feet (304.80 meters) of a public beach. They said the wells approved in San Luis Obispo County also threaten the habitat of vulnerable species, including the California coast horned lizard and the wildflower pismo clarkia.