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Oil and Gas

Photo Credit: Nacho Corbella

Oil wells

An Urgent, Much-Needed Change

California’s leaders are laser-focused right now on limiting the spread and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing this unprecedented threat effectively, however, will require addressing other, long-standing community health problems as well, such as those caused by lack of access to clean air, clean water, and adequate shelter.

Thousands of California residents, for example, have long suffered from health issues caused by the oil and gas industries. From poisoned groundwater in the Central Valley to hazardous uncapped oil wells in Los Angeles and polluted air from oil production facilities near San Francisco Bay neighborhoods, it is low income communities of color who suffer the most from these problems.

As we battle the urgent threat of COVID-19 in our state, now more than ever we must ensure that all community members have access to the basic components of a healthy existence. Harvard University recently released a report linking long-term exposure to pollution to increased COVID-19 death rates, and we already knew that people who live near oil wells are more likely to develop chronic diseases that make them more vulnerable to a disease like this.

For the safety of our children, our families, our friends, and our neighbors, it’s time to phase out oil and gas in California, to ensure that—in normal times—every community is a healthy place to live, work, and play and that in times like we face right now, no one is forced to face a threat like COVID-19 with their health unnecessarily compromised through no fault of their own.

Oil and gas facilities in California are a public health threat, often to the most vulnerable communities.

All California residents, particularly those living in low income communities and communities of color, face health problems caused by oil and gas facilities. About 14% of the state’s population live within a mile of at least one of the more than 84,000 existing oil and gas wells.

Click here for a map of oil facilities in California

Oil wells

Oil wells, refineries, and related production facilities also disproportionately impact the health of thousands of residents. Of Californians statewide living within one mile of oil and gas development and in communities identified as most vulnerable, nearly 92% are people of color.

Californians living next to industrial pollution sources

Californians living next to industrial pollution sources, such as oil and gas facilities, face severe health problems including asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Toxins produced by these industries have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, and birth defects.

Oil wells

The majority of oil and gas wells are located in communities that are heavily polluted otherwise, primarily in Kern, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties.

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Did You Know

  • In California, 352,724 students attend school within one mile of an oil and gas well
  • Currently, state law does not limit how close the wells can be to schools, hospitals or residential housing
  • There are 485 active oil wells within 1 mile of a school
  • Students attending school within a mile of oil and gas wells are predominantly non-white (79.6%)
  • Oil wells can release toxic compounds into freshwater aquifers, exposing the surrounding communities to contaminated drinking water
  • There are 3,468 active oil wells in Los Angeles county, 880 operate in the city; some located as close as 60-100 feet from residential front doors
Oil wells
  • The likelihood of reporting migraines was 43 times greater for people living near natural gas development activities compared to areas with no natural gas activity
  • Oil and gas activities can adversely affect the mental health, well-being, and quality of life for nearby residents. Chemical and non-chemical stressors may contribute to increased risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, and fatigue
  • Studies show oil development can contribute to headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea, nosebleeds, and possibly increase in cancer risk
  • The majority of L.A.’s industrial oil activity takes place in low-income and minority communities
  • There are 35,000 idle and unplugged oil wells in California. More than 350,000 Californians live within 600 feet of unplugged wells
Oil wells
Oil wells

Send a Petition

Choose Your Region

Regional Letter | Central Valley

Dear Legislators,

COVID-19 is an unprecedented threat to all California communities. It is appalling that some Californians face this pandemic with their health already compromised by long-standing exposure to the pollution of the fossil fuel industry.

Harvard University recently released a report linking long-term exposure to pollution to increased COVID-19 death rates. As a transit corridor and site of 70% of oil drilling and 80% of all gas production in California, Kern County residents are already impacted by the health threats of toxic groundwater contamination and poor air quality. Respiratory illnesses linked to transportation emissions were already a threat to rural residents even before the novel coronavirus. Now, Central Valley residents are being put doubly at risk to the spread of this respiratory pandemic.

Now more than ever we need our leaders to grasp the right that all Californians have to be able to access clean air and water. As the oil and gas market bottoms out, there is no excuse to not prioritize human health and well-being. I urge you to consider 1) the health impacts that current and future oil and gas pollution create for nearby communities; 2) the importance of just transitions for workers and communities as we phase out use of fossil fuels in our economy, and 3) the urgency of this situation, as communities are confined to their homes next to oil wells and other toxic, polluting land uses.

The Central Valley deserves reliable jobs that do not harm the health of our communities. It’s time to invest in clean energy jobs to recharge our economy and improve our community’s air and water.

Remember: All California residents deserve a clean and healthy environment.


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