State Senator Dave Min introduces bill to ban offshore drilling in California waters

The Refugio oil spill. | 



By Dan Bacher |  

SACRAMENTO, CA — In a major challenge to the powerful oil industry in California, Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) has introduced a bill to ban offshore drilling in state ocean waters, including oil production under current lease agreements.

Senate Bill 953 would end all drilling in California state waters by the end of 2023. There are currently 11 leases and three active oil rigs in California state waters, those ocean waters within 3 miles of shore.

Min said SB 953 fulfills his pledge for action in the wake of last year’s Orange County Oil Spill that leaked nearly 25,000 gallons of crude oil just off the coast of Huntington Beach, shutting down beaches and recreational and commercial fishing from Orange County to San Diego.

This was the largest spill in California waters since the 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill fouled many miles of the Santa Barbara County Coast, including  “marine protected areas” created under the helm of a Big Oil lobbyist under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

“Where there is drilling, there is going to be spilling,” Min said in a statement. “We know that the aging infrastructure of these offshore rigs means that we will see more and more of these disastrous oil spills, unless we take action now. Our coastal economies, our precious marine ecosystems, and our right as Californians to access clean and unspoiled beaches are all at risk.”

“We must end offshore drilling off the coast of California now. Not in 5 years, or 10 years or after the next major oil spill. Now. SB 953 would do just that for all offshore drilling in California state waters,” Min stated.  

Brown and Newsom administrations issued hundreds of offshore oil well permits

Despite the portrayal of California as the nation’s “green” and “progressive” leader by the state’s politicians, California has continued to issue new and reworked offshore oil drilling permits under Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom.

As of October 1, 2021, there were a total of 150 reported permits issued for offshore wells in state waters under existing leases since January 1, 2019, according to an analysis posted at www.NewsomWellWatch.org by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. Five of these permits were for new drilling and the remaining 145 for reworks (including sidetracks and deepening operations).  

In February 2017, an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fractracker Alliance revealed that Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new or reworked offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent: www.counterpunch.org/... 

The introduction of Senate Bill 953 took place just one week after federal, state, and local first responders officially concluded the spill’s clean-up and emergency response phase.

“California’s coastal economy is estimated to generate $44 billion each year and employ over half a million Californians,” said Min, noting that all offshore drilling off the coast of California—both in state and federal waters—accounts for less than 0.3 percent of all U.S. oil production. 

Environmental groups back SB 953

Senate Bill 953 is supported by environmental organizations opposed to offshore drilling off the California coast, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Social Compassion in Legislation.

“Senator Min’s bill is a crucial response to the oil industry’s horrific record of spewing toxic pollution onto California’s beautiful, fragile coast,” said Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Program Director, at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Decade after decade, offshore drilling has fouled our beaches, poisoned our ocean and killed our wildlife. It’s time to get this dirty, dangerous and utterly reckless industry out of our coastal waters.”

"These oil drilling platforms and pipes were called ‘an unacceptable hazard to navigation’ and a ‘veritable minefield inviting catastrophe’ in the 1970’s when Orange County led a lawsuit, along with Huntington, Newport, and Laguna Beaches, to stop the leases," stated Judie Mancuso, Founder and President of Social Compassion in Legislation headquartered in Laguna Beach. "It is time we continue the fight that our county and coastal cities started over four decades ago, and again stand up against the oil industry to save our pristine coastline, protect our marine and wildlife, while ensuring our local economies can thrive." 

Because of an hours-long delay to shut off a ruptured pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach, crude oil from the offshore platform operated by Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Texas-based Amplify Energy, damaged 259 miles of Southern California coastline from Seal Beach to south of the Mexican Border.

“Though the spilling only lasted hours, over 8,000 gallons of crude oil had been removed from the ocean,” said Min. “Teams of more than 1,400 trained crews and 10,000 volunteers recovered almost 600,000 pounds of oiled sand and debris.”   

Since that spill, another offshore oil pipeline from Platform Eva to shore leaked oil off Huntington Beach, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Oil and gas companies violated state regulations at least 381 times in 3 years

Corporations drilling for oil and gas off the southern coast of California violated state regulations at least 381 times over a recent three-year period, state records obtained in 2018 by the Center reveal. The group said the violations ranged from major corrosion and other serious safety threats on offshore drilling platforms to a pattern of missing and failed well-integrity tests on four offshore drilling islands owned by the city of Long Beach.

“Offshore oil production also contributes to the climate crisis,” the Center said in a statement. “Seven offshore drilling platforms on the California coast have been shut down since the Refugio spill, which was caused by the failure of Plains All American Pipeline’s coastal oil pipeline.”

The Center calculated that, as of May 2020, production from those platforms could have added 33.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere, the equivalent of burning almost 37 billion pounds of coal. 

The seven platforms continue to be shut down while five additional platforms are temporarily shut down because of recent offshore pipeline ruptures off Orange County, the Center added.

Oil industry claims bill would lead to importation of more foreign oil

As expected, the oil industry, led by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), is strongly opposing the legislation. In response to the introduction of the bill, WSPA spokesperson Kevin Slagle told the Los Angeles Times the legislation would decrease the state’s local oil supply and burden California taxpayers.

"Eliminating existing offshore production will lead to importing even more of the energy we need from foreign sources and putting California at significant risk for takings claims," Slagle told Phil Wilson of the Times : denvergazette.com/...

(WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, has spent over $17.5 million alone lobbying the California Legislature and other state officials over the past three years.

In 2021, WSPA spent $4,397,004 lobbying legislators and state officials to serve Big Oil's agenda, according to data filed with California Secretary of State’s Office.    

The association spent $957,137 on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2021. The money went to an array of in-house lobbyists and outside lobbying firms, topped by Ramball Environ in Philadelphia that received $116,981 in the fourth quarter and $366,864 in 2021.  

WSPA spent a total of $8.8 million in 2019 and $4,267,181 in 2020 on lobbying California legislators and officials as thousands of oil and gas drilling permits were approved by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency: www.citywatchla.com/...    

In 2020, even a weak bill recommending health and safety setbacks around oil and gas failed to get through the oil industry-friendly California Legislature.

Then in 2021, another stronger bill, SB 467, failed to pass throughout the legislature because of heavy oil industry lobbying of legislators, including those who had received big campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. The bill would have banned fracking by 2023 eliminating fracking and instituting mandatory health and safety zones between oil and gas extraction and places where Californians live, work, and study.    

Oil industry exerts inordinate influence over California regulators

However, the inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators is most dramatically evidenced by the approval of thousands of new and reworked onshore oil and gas well permits by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, since Newsom took office in January 2019.

On the same day the LA City Council voted to ban oil and gas wells in city limits, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported at www.NewsomWellWatch.org that Governor Newsom has approved 10,212 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019. The total is nearly identical to the number of permits Governor Jerry Brown approved in his first three years.   

Lobbying is just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 7 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups; (5) working in collaboration with media; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; and (7) contributing to non profit organizations.  

In one glaring example of oil and gas industry officials serving on regulatory panels, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired  the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012, as well as serving on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.  


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