We residents of Contra Costa have some near-term opportunities to score climate change and environmental justice wins by promoting the termination of oil and gas production in our county. We could set an example and join a growing movement of California localities that are aware of the need to act now to avoid climate catastrophe. California is feeding our fossil fuel addiction as the home of approximately 63,000 active oil and gas wells. The sooner we can transition to alternative fuels, the more we reduce the greenhouse gases (GHGs) and co-pollutants produced by the burning of fossil fuels, and the likelier we are to cap global warming at a level that avoids total catastrophe. So developing plans to phase out oil and gas production seems like a no-brainer. Along with mitigating climate change, we would significantly improve human health. The myriad negative impacts of living in proximity to fossil fuel extraction sites are well-known: asthma and other respiratory problems, headaches, spontaneous preterm births,  noise-pollution-related sleep deprivation, and exposure to carcinogenic pollutants. Perhaps surprisingly, many California oil and gas facilities are sited within or close to residential neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, those facilities are clustered in predominantly low-income communities of color. In considering the climate and health impacts of our fossil fuel dependency, we need to include the state’s approximate 38,000 idle and unplugged wells, which recent research has shown emit significant methane gas (a highly potent GHG, 80 x more potent than Co2 in a twenty-year period).

Action at the state government level to free California from fossil fuel dependency has been too little, too late. While Governor Newsom is banning new fracking n sites as of January 2024, his administration approved 3,745 new oil and gas permits in 2020 alone. His order to the California Air Resources Board to figure out how the state can rid itself of oil production sets 2045 as the end date. In contrast, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international energy agency, recently warned that to maintain a livable planet, all fossil fuel production must end by 2030.  A bill to impose a 2,500 ft. buffer zone between oil drilling sites and homes, schools and hospitals died in the state legislature in 2020, even though some other states have a distance requirement. While the legislature this year upped the amount that the state can spend on plugging idle wells, at $5,000,000 annually starting in 2022, this just begins to meet the need. 

Some California localities are stepping up to the challenge and moving faster than the state. On June 17, 2021 Culver City, home to a portion of the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country, voted into law an ordinance phasing out existing oil wells by 2026, a far more realistic response to the immediacy of global warming than the state’s 24-year timeline. The ordinance also calls for capping and clean up of extraction sites, as well as development of just transition strategies for displaced workers. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors followed Culver City’s lead on September 15, directing their staff to study the feasibility of phasing out all oil and gas production within five years, and to include options for just transition.  Unincorporated LA County is home to more than 1,600 wells with the majority located in the Inglewood Oil Field.

Contra Costa County has 17 producing oil and gas wells, mostly in unincorporated areas, and 656 non-producing ones. Environmental activists are currently battling a proposal to drill three exploratory wells in unincorporated Brentwood, at a site a few hundred feet away from homes.  If sufficient oil is found, a permanent rig and production well, will be installed. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which was initiated only after a community uproar,  is still pending release for public comment. And very shortly the public—and ultimately the County Board of Supervisors (BOS)—will be called upon to review Envision Contra Costa 2040, an in-process update of the County General Plan that includes land use directives (including those governing oil and gas production) and climate change mitigation goals.

You, as a resident of Contra Costa, can urge the County to take positive steps to mitigate climate change, improve public health, and promote social justice. You can let the BOS know that we can’t wait until 2045 to rid ourselves of our fossil fuel addiction:

  • Sign The Action Network petition calling on the BOS to act now to prohibit new drilling permits and phase out existing wells. The petition is at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/no-new-oil-and-gas-drilling-in-contra-costa?source=direct_link&
  • Share the petition with Contra Costa family members and friends.
  • When the comment period on the Brentwood drilling EIR opens, write letters and speak at public hearings about your opposition to this project. The BOS responds when a critical mass of residents takes a stand, so let’s keep the pressure up. We’ll let you know when public hearings are scheduled.