Sierra Club and Allies Release Statement on Newsom Administration’s New 3,200-foot Setback Distance Draft Rule to Protect Communities from Harmful Oil Operations


October 21, 2021

Michael Blenner,

Gabby Brown,


Sierra Club and Allies Release Statement on Newsom Administration’s New 3,200-foot Setback Distance Draft Rule to Protect Communities from Harmful Oil Operations 


SACRAMENTO - Today, Governor Newsom announced that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) has issued new draft health and safety rules requiring that newly constructed oil and gas extraction sites must be at least 3,200 feet from California homes, schools, and public parks. This first of its kind draft rule is one of the longest setback distances in the nation, and will help guard Californian communities from toxic pollution from oil and gas wells.

The draft rule is the result of a two year CalGEM rulemaking process initiated by Governor Newsom, with the goal of protecting Californians from the toxic effects of oil and gas extraction.  The oil and gas industry has already poured millions of dirty dollars into opposing vital climate regulations. This announcement follows last month’s defeat of the regressive, anti-climate recall election which aimed to reverse California’s progress on the environment and emissions.

The Sierra Club and its allies have been at the forefront of the fight to strengthen California’s legal protections against oil and gas pollution, and have repeatedly called on Governor Newsom to establish stronger setback rules. Today’s announcement is a major first step from CalGEM in developing more stringent mandates against toxic oil and gas production. However, the draft rule only applies to new oil and gas sites, not existing locations. The draft rule would put in place new requirements for existing wells to monitor emissions, noise, light, dust and water quality. 

Oil and gas infrastructure in California has had devastating impacts on frontline communities. From the recent oil spill on Huntington Beach to longer term negative effects on air quality and public health, oil and gas sites anywhere in California have had profound impacts on Californians everywhere, especially Black and Latinx communities. This new CalGEM rule is encouraging, but does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable Californians from harmful fossil fuel production. Ultimately, there is no safe distance from the effects of oil and gas extraction.

In response, Sierra Club and environmental justice advocates released the following statements:

“The announcement of a 3,200-foot setback distance is a huge first step towards protecting the health and safety of California’s frontline communities. We are excited to see recognition from Governor Newsom that the oil and gas industry has been polluting communities, and that the administration is taking concrete action to protect Californians from further harm,” said Brandon Dawson, Director of Sierra Club California. “A denial of new permits within 3200’ is a great start, but it’s past time that we end all drilling in our communities. This distance should also include rework permits, since those make up the bulk of permits in our neighborhoods. We will be closely reviewing the draft rule, and will continue to work to protect the health and safety of all Californians.” 

“Wilmington residents have lived with the dangerous health impacts of oil drilling for far too long. The Governor’s announcement regarding the CALGEM rulemaking shows us that the Newsom administration is listening to us,” said Wendy Miranda, Wilmington Community Member, Communities for a Better Environment. “But now we need them to strengthen this rule and make it law. Countless frontline environmental justice communities have been waiting for this rule and we look forward to engaging in the process to ensure that workers and communities are protected as this rule is finalized.”

“Today’s announcement represents years of work by environmental justice advocates to put public health first after over a century of prioritizing oil company profits above health and safety. Governor Newsom and his administration is now listening to the front line communities  and health professionals who have borne the burden of proving they have been harmed by oil extraction.” says Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “We know there is no safe distance for oil and gas drilling, but until we phase out all drilling our communities will continue to be at risk from day-to-day operations and the continuous threat of catastrophic accidents like we saw in Orange County. We look forward to reviewing the regulations and working towards a healthy and equitable transition.” 

“Science has confirmed the need for a 3,200 ft setback for communities living close to oil and gas. Residents of environmental justice communities in Kern County, like those living in Lamont, Arvin, Lost Hills who have for decades been suffocated with dangerous gases from the oil facilities surrounding their homes, are finally receiving good news,” says Nayamin Martinez, Executive Director of CCEJN. “Today’s decision is promising - but we need to demonstrate the first step towards health is as important as the profits of the oil companies that are cozy with Kern County politicians.”

“Oil and gas companies have been treating our communities as sacrifice zones for over a century. This industry has elevated its own profits above the health, well-being, and lives of primarily BIPOC and low-income communities.” said Juan Flores, community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Frontline community members have spoken in a clear voice, demanding an end to neighborhood drilling. Today, Governor Newsom and CalGEM have announced a health and safety setback of 3200 feet, a strong step in the right direction. However, this draft rule misses the chance to prohibit new permits for existing wells, a key element for our communities. We look forward to working with the administration to close this loophole and quickly move to protect our communities at long last.”

“For decades the San Joaquin Valley has seen epidemic levels of sickness from being one of the nation’s most polluted air basins for fine particle (PM2.5) and ozone pollution. Oil and gas operations emit toxic air pollutants including PM2.5, a major contributor to serious cases of COVID-19, and are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Catherine Garoupa-White with the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “Today’s draft rule is a crucial first step in a continuing battle to protect everyone, especially frontline communities, from the worst of oil and gas byproducts. Health and safety buffers will combat climate change and improve air quality, protecting the right to breathe clean air. We call on the Newsom administration to strengthen the rule and demand rework permits be included in the final rule.”

“After years of delay, we are encouraged by this announcement from the Newsom administration, which sends a strong signal that oil and gas has no place in neighborhoods. We’re ready to carry this rule home and make sure it actually accomplishes what we need it to accomplish: the end of neighborhood oil and gas drilling. If the final rule doesn’t do that, then it’s not enough. Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian immigrant communities deserve neighborhoods free from air, water and soil pollution. We know today’s announcement of 3,2000 ft setbacks for frontline communities is just a first, critical step. Oil and gas executives won’t let neighborhood oil drilling end without a fight  — and we’ll keep fighting for working people until every person’s right to clean air in every neighborhood is guaranteed.” said Neena Mohan, Climate Justice Manager with the California Environmental Justice Alliance.


Sierra Club California is the legislative and regulatory arm of Sierra Club’s 13 local chapters in California, representing nearly half a million members and supporters.