As part of its climate strategy, Los Angeles agrees to curb, and eventually end, its fossil fuel production. California is seen as a leader in renewables. However, it continues to have a high oil and gas output, supplying energy to the rest of the country. Finally, California, LA in particular, is responding to public pressure to stop its oil and gas output in a move that could lead the way for other cities across the country.
The Impact of California’s Oil Wells
In December, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to ban new oil and gas drilling. As a result, it will also phase out existing oil wells over the next 20 years. This follows years of complaints and mounting pressure to curb fossil fuel production in the city from residents concerned about pollution and related health issues. At present, around 500,000 LA residents live within a quarter of a mile of an active oil well. Medical studies have shown that several harmful pollutants from the wells, from benzene to hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde, could be causing many communities major health issues. The move marks a major step forward in the state’s climate policy, offering a blueprint for other cities across the U.S. to follow in its footsteps.
Presently, the city has 26 oil and gas fields and over 5,000 wells. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell stated, “We’re sending a clear message to big oil: The city of Los Angeles is moving into a new era with this vote today, and we will no longer tolerate oil and gas extraction.” He added, “No matter where people live, everyone deserves to breathe clean air, drink uncontaminated water and live in safe, healthy neighborhoods.”
California’s Take on the Green Transition
Frequently, the state acts as a national leader in climate policy in several cases. Conversely, the state continues to rely heavily on oil and gas, as one of America’s top-producing regions. California has been gradually transitioning to using renewable energy to power its electric grid. However, fossil fuels form the foundation of the state’s economy and provide energy to much of the rest of the U.S. that continues to rely on oil and gas.
Recently, California announced it would be banning new fossil fuel-powered cars by 2035, encouraging New York to do the same. This is part of the state’s grand aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, from 1990 levels. The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning outlines several measures that should be taken to achieve this aim in its Draft 2045 Climate Action Plan (CAP), which opened up to the public for comment in the Spring of 2022.
However, California’s Relationship with Fossil Fuels May Not Be Easy to Break
Critics suggest that a movement away from oil and gas could increase U.S. decency on foreign imports. Previously, in 2021, LA produced around 2.5 million barrels of oil. This means, that we would’ve had to replace this with either foreign supplies or renewable alternatives. Those in the industry highlight the strict carbon requirements of California-produced oil, which other oil-producing countries may not uphold, leading the U.S. to replace these supplies with dirtier alternatives.
Despite California’s recent climate policies, the state has long been accused of having an addiction to fossil fuels that outweighs the development of its renewable energy operations. A report from 2022 showed that many of the state’s abandoned wells continued to leak methane, as California had failed to plug its old oil and gas wells. This highlighted the state’s lack of concern around fossil fuel-related public health. After the report’s publication, the state ordered the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) to plug the leaks, vowing to invest $300 million in closing any other methane leaks. However, many accused the state of long underplaying the severity of the leaks.
In addition, California continues to back natural gas as part of its green transition, suggesting that gas is a cleaner form of fossil fuel than oil and coal, and necessary to meet the growing public demand for energy. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility operator, stated that it aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 while maintaining its natural gas use. Further, a regional air regulator has given millions of dollars in clear air grants to strengthen natural gas projects in recent years.
The introduction of new, ambitious climate policies in LA demonstrates a willingness from the political powers to respond to public pressure to curb fossil fuel production and support a transition to green. However, as California continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels, and other states depend on California for their energy provision, a greater effort must be made state-wide to bring about change.
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Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specializing in Energy and Industry. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK, and is now based in Mexico City.
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