Referendum proponents challenging oil well bill could collect signatures this month

Proponents of a referendum aiming to stop a new California law establishing distance minimums between new oil wells and certain areas could begin collecting signatures at the end of this month.

A proposed referendum was filed just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1137 into law. The measure bans new oil wells within 3,200 feet of schools, homes and hospitals and requires pollution controls for existing oil wells within 3,200 feet of these zones.

It is not immediately clear what organization is behind the referendum, though Gov. Gavin Newsom asserted that it’s “big oil” during a speech at Climate Week NYC earlier this week.

“[California] may be dominated by Democrats, but many of us are wholly owned subsidiaries of the fossil fuel industry,” Newsom said Tuesday. “I mean, they play hard. We did a setback bill – 3,200 foot setback bill for health and safety, and they just filed a referendum yesterday, big oil. These guys aren’t going away.”

Kurt Oneto, a lawyer at Nielsen Merksamer LLP, is listed as the contact for inquiries about the referendum. He did not respond to several requests for comment from The Center Square.

The referendum is signed by Jerome Reedy, a board member of the California Independent Petroleum Association and treasurer of the California Natural Gas Producers Association, who is listed as a proponent. CIPA did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Center Square regarding the referendum.

Supporters of the bill argued that it is key to protecting the health of millions of Californians. About five and a half million Californians live within a mile of one or more oil and gas wells, which the legislative authors say increases the risk of asthma, preterm births, high-risk pregnancies and cancer.

Proponents of the referendum still have a long way to go before the measure makes it to the 2024 ballot. The Attorney General’s Office told The Center Square that it anticipates having a circulating title and summary for the referendum by Sept. 29. Supporters use that to collect signatures.

Proponents will then have 90 days from the statute’s enactment to collect and submit over 623,000 signatures to potentially qualify the measure for the 2024 ballot, where it will ultimately be left up to the voters to decide on the law. The bill was signed into law on Sept. 16, so they have until mid-December to submit signatures.

If the measure does qualify, it could potentially appear with another proposed referendum seeking to overturn Assembly Bill 257 – a measure signed by Newsom that would allow the creation of a state council to regulate wages and working conditions for the fast food industry. Proponents of the referendum of AB 257 have until early December to collect over 623,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

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