California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order to stop issuing new permits for hydraulic fracturing in the state by January 2024, and requested that the California Air Resources Board analyse ways to phase out oil extraction statewide by 2045.

Estimates vary on how much of California’s oil production would be affected by Newsom’s order, but the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) said as much as one-fifth of the state’s production could be curbed by the measure.

California's oil production has plummeted in recent years, even as it has grown in much of the United States. The state's oil production in January 2021 fell to an estimated 11.29 million barrels per month from an average of 17.11 million barrels per month in 2014.

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Newsom targeted fracking specifically, and oil production as a whole, as incompatible with his vision for the state moving forward.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a statement on 23 April. “As we move to swiftly decarbonise our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children, I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

Industry, environmentalists criticise plan

The move by the Democratic governor, who is facing a recall effort launched by the state’s voters, did not seem to please either side of the debate. Industry advocates said the decision to ban fracking would damage the state’s economy, while environmentalists said Newsom’s approach was not aggressive enough.

“It’s disappointing that the governor’s legally questionable announcement will undermine California’s climate leadership. Curbing in-state production through a well stimulation ban would not change the fact that Californians demand 1.4 million barrels of oil each day,” said CIPA chief executive Rock Zieman.

“Instead of meeting our vast needs with California oil produced under the planet’s strictest regulations, we would economically reward foreign regimes who do not share our environmental standards and human rights values," Zieman said. "Meeting significant climate targets will require large-scale projects like carbon capture and using idle wells to store backup energy. Investment in these climate innovations will only be made possible if our industry is able to operate in California.”

The California chapter of the Sierra Club, on the other hand, said Newsom’s timelines were insufficiently slow.

“California needs prompt state action to confront the climate crisis. This means shortening the timeline for the fracking ban and requiring the phase-out of oil and gas production earlier,” said Brandon Dawson, acting director of Sierra Club California. “Time is not a luxury we have to tackle a crisis of this scale. If the governor is to continue to paint California as a pioneer in the transition away from fossil fuels, he’ll have to recognise this urgency and act swiftly.”