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California stiffens oversight of oil and gas drilling

Nov 19 (Reuters) - California, the seventh-biggest U.S. oil producing state, on Tuesday unveiled new regulations for drillers as it seeks to wind down its reliance on fossil fuels.

The announcement by Governor Gavin Newson underscored the sharp differences between the heavily Democratic state and the Trump administration's energy dominance agenda, which has sought to ease oil and gas regulations and boost U.S. production.

California's oil and gas regulator announced several new measures, including a moratorium on an extraction technique that uses high-pressure steam to break up oil formations underground. The practice known as cycling steam has been linked to a spill at the Cymric oil field in Kern County this year.

Of the 160 million barrels per year of oil produced in California, about 8 million comes from the kind of high-pressure cyclic steaming affected by the moratorium, according to Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

DOGGR will be renamed the Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, effective next year, the state said.

California also said it will require that pending permits for hydraulic fracturing undergo a review by a scientific panel of experts from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The state has already been in the midst of an audit of its permitting processes since July. The audit was prompted by a report earlier this year that found that oil well approvals had gone up under Newsom.

California has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045 and phasing out oil production and consumption.

These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources, Newsom said in a statement. This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment, and our economy.

The state will also begin a formal process consider a range of options to protect public health from oil and gas operations, it said.

Environmental groups applauded the announcement.

"This is the kind of leadership necessary to make California the first major oil-producing state to phase out extraction and protect people and our planet from dirty fossil fuels, Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an emailed statement. (Reporting by Nichola Groom Editing by Marguerita Choy)