Document Type



Environmental Law | Oil, Gas, and Energy


To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, most of the world’s oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground. In the United States, this would require a dramatic phaseout of oil and gas extraction nationwide over the coming decades. How could we accomplish this? While recent legal scholarship emphasizes the importance of a just transition away from oil and gas extraction, little work has been done to navigate the legal, political, and equity hurdles associated with phasing out oil and gas extraction.

This Article seeks to start this conversation by offering one way to approach phaseouts of oil and gas extraction in the United States: prioritize phasing out extraction closest to people. This intuitive approach builds on the success of frontline communities in California and Colorado advocating for statewide setbacks that prioritize regulating oil and gas extraction closest to their communities. Among other virtues, this advocacy has successfully drawn the connection between the localized harms of oil and gas extraction on communities of color and low-income communities to the larger climate impacts of continued oil and gas extraction.

This Article argues that phaseout policies should follow these communities’ lead and articulates several priorities for doing so: (1) stopping new extraction closest to people, (2) monitoring continued extraction closest to people, (3) plugging and reclaiming wells closest to people, and (4) matching proximity-based phaseouts with decarbonization programs. This approach to managing the decline of oil and gas extraction in the United States places such policies on the strongest footing against legal challenges while also targeting the roots of political support for extraction by reducing local dependency and supporting communities that have borne the direct impacts of fossil fuel extraction.