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Newsom allocates $200 million for oil and gas well remediation

Environmental activists applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move Friday to earmark $200 million for remediating idle oil and gas wells across California.

The set-aside, part of the administration’s May budget revision, would permanently plug wells at risk of leaking. It would also help reduce a backlog of so-called orphaned wells whose now-defunct owners did not leave behind enough money for a proper abandonment.

In a summary Friday, the state said many of the wells are located near low-income residential areas.

Environmental-justice advocates have pushed for more state money for oilfield remediation projects because they see the activity as a potential source of employment for oil and gas-producing counties like Kern that would suffer under Newsom’s plan to phase out in-state petroleum production.

“Plugging and remediating oil wells is a critical next step to meet California’s climate goals,” Veronica Wilson, California organizer at Labor Network for Sustainability, said in a news release Friday. “All displaced fossil fuel workers and communities disproportionately impacted by pollution must be the first people who get access to these good jobs.”

In the same release, Lauren Cullum, policy advocate at Sierra Club California, said the administration must prioritize frontline communities, climate and workers, “not fossil fuel executives who have exploited our communities, our health and our clean air and water to benefit their own bottom lines.”

“We must also continue to invest in communities and workers that have relied on fossil fuels,” she continued, “making sure that no one is left behind in a just transition to a clean energy future.”

A spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association trade group, Kevin Slagle, said Monday the industry sees the $200 million as a positive addition to the budget and that it supports funding for well remediation work.

“Is this the first step in a ‘just transition’ (away from oil production)?” he asked. “I think we’d probably look at it a little differently.”

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