Posted on December 14, 2021

By Jayla Burton, Program Manager

It’s been five years since California state scientists recommended a health and safety buffer, also known as a setback, between oil and gas drilling sites and sensitive sites where people live, work, and play, due to the harmful health effects of oil drilling.

However, Big Oil continues business as usual: drilling, polluting, and exposing our communities to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Studies have linked proximity to oil and gas wells to increased risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, preterm births, high-risk pregnancies and birth defects, negative mental health impacts, and cancers including breast cancer.

Despite the scientific evidence and growing momentum around this issue, CalGEM has continued to drag their feet, and has taken little action to implement setbacks. Even with all this data in the palm of our hands, it is still legal to drill for oil and gas next to homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and other sensitive areas, which most directly impacts frontline communities, low-income communities, and neighborhoods that Black and Latinx neighbors call home. It’s past time our state ended this practice.

On December 9, I testified before state regulators from CalGEM (California Geologic Energy Management) and Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration, emphasizing that fossil fuels are fueling the breast cancer crisis. The last time I stood before these state regulators, it was just weeks before the global shelter in place in February of 2020. I joined with other concerned activists to emphasize the urgent need for a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer between oil and drilling sites and sensitive sites like homes and schools to ensure protection from the health hazards of fossil fuels. This time around I stood before CalGEM to demand an even bigger setback of 3,200 feet.

As a result of the tireless activism of our members, our coalition partners, and a new scientific assessment that showed that a 3,200 foot setback is the bare minimum needed to protect people from the environmental exposures caused by oil and gas drilling, CalGEM has finally issued a new draft rule. The agency hosted two “town hall” type workshops where concerned members of the community gave verbal public comments on the proposed rule to end neighborhood drilling in the state of California, and now we need your help to get this rule across the finish line.

Join me and other environmental justice leaders in California and urge CalGEM to:

  • implement a 3,200 foot setbacks for new wells,
  • ensure setbacks apply to existing wells,
  • and ban all new permits within the setback, until the final rule is in effect.

You can submit a written comment to the agency using our easy-to-use online advocacy tool.

I had the honor of delivering the following testimony at the CalGem public comment townhall on Wednesday, December 9, 2021:

My name is Jayla Burton, I am here as the Program Manager at Breast Cancer Action, and I currently live in San Francisco, CA. On behalf of people living with and at risk of breast cancer, and in solidarity with my relatives that reside in Kern County directly across the street from active oil wells, I’m here before you today to stress the urgent need for a health and safety buffer between new and existing oil and gas extraction sites.

Fossil fuels are fueling climate chaos, and a public health disaster. Every year in the U.S., more than a quarter of a million people are diagnosed with breast cancer—a number that continues to rise. When it comes to fossil fuels, fracking and dangerous drilling practices utilize two billion gallons of chemicals in the U.S. Of these two billion gallons, 25 percent are linked to cancer, and 30 percent of these chemicals are known endocrine disruptors, which increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These chemicals that are leave their mark. For example, when children are exposed to these types of harmful chemicals during critical windows of development, it can influence breast cancer risk throughout their lives. 

This is more than a health justice issue. Moving forward without implementing a 3,200 foot health and safety buffer means continued environmental racism for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, who are systematically harmed by historic and ongoing planning, zoning, and lending practices, that cater to fossil fuel industry and put profit over public health.

CalGEM: Breast Cancer Action is imploring you to put people, especially those harmed first and worst by the environmental racism inherent to the fossil fuel industry, before the interests of this toxic industry. I am here to demand minimum health and safety setbacks of at least 3,200 feet between all new and existing oil and gas extraction sites and sensitive receptors. I’m also calling on CalGEM to end all permitting within the 3,200ft setback zone until the draft rule is finalized. We need the minimum 3,200 foot setbacks NOW.  

As it stands, oil and gas drilling hits too close to home. Add your public comment now to protect public health from the health harms of fossil fuels. 


The Last Chance Alliance, a California -based coalition of over 700 environmental, social justice, health, and community activist groups nationwide fighting for the future of California. Over the years we have mobilized hundreds of people across the state to take action to protect public health from the impacts of oil and gas extraction.