Bills to stop new federal offshore drilling approved, but offshore drilling expands in CA waters

By Dan Bacher | September 1, 2018 |   

Two identical bills authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (Torrance) to stop the Trump Administration from opening new federal oil drilling leases off the California coast are headed to the Governor’s desk, but these bills won’t stop the big expansion of offshore drilling in state waters under existing leases approved under Governor Jerry Brown. 

Senator Jackson’s bill, SB 834, passed the Senate Floor August 29 by a vote of 28 to 7, with 5 votes not recorded. Senator Muratsuchi’s bill, AB 1775, passed the Assembly Floor August 29 by a vote of 45 to 24, with 10 votes not recorded.

As expected, the Western States Petroleum Association and the oil and gas companies opposed the legislation, while a coalition of conservation, fishing, Tribal and environmental justice groups supported the legislation. These two bills are only two of the three bills in the past three years that were able to make it through the Legislature to the Governor’s Desk despite strong opposition by the oil industry. 

“The bills ensure that new pipelines and other new infrastructure needed to support federal oil development cannot be built in California waters,” according to Senator Jackson’s Office. “In addition, existing pipelines cannot be expanded without a six-month public notice requirement and public vote of the State Lands Commission at a time when Californians overwhelmingly oppose offshore drilling.”

The Department of Interior, under the helm of Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, proposed a massive expansion in federal offshore oil drilling, including off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, in January 2018. SB 834 and AB 1775 block the expansion in California waters by prohibiting the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development in the three-mile area off the coast that is controlled by the state, according to Jackson’s Office.

Under the legislation, the public would also have an opportunity to weigh in on any expansions to existing pipelines. Any modifications to pipelines or piers that result in new oil production in federal waters would require a six-month public notice period for review and comment before going to the State Lands Commission for a vote. 

“From the 1969 Santa Barbara spill to the 2015 Refugio spill, our community knows all too well the devastation oil spills can bring to our local economy, environment, and marine life,” said Senator Jackson. “With this legislation, California is sending a strong and unequivocal message that we will not let the Trump Administration destroy our precious coastal community for economic gain.”

"I am thrilled that the Legislature passed AB 1775 tonight," echoed Assemblymember Muratsuchi. "We are fighting the Trump Administration to protect the South Bay and California's beautiful coast from the threat of offshore oil drilling and rigs. I urge Governor Brown to continue his strong environmental leadership by signing my bill."

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California, and the leader of the opposition to the bills, told Paul Rogers of the Bay Area News Group, “Bans are not the answer.”

“Demand for fuel is not decreasing,” Reheis-Boyd said. “Every barrel of oil not produced in California will be replaced by a barrel produced and shipped in from a region that doesn’t have our state’s stringent environmental laws.” (

Climate justice advocates believe these two bills represent a good step forward in addressing the threat of new federal offshore drilling, but they don’t address the current expansion of offshore wells in state waters under Governor Brown. Brown’s supposedly “strong environmental leadership” hasn’t prevented him from overseeing a big expansion of offshore oil drilling in state waters under existing leases.

Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016 alone. That’s an increase of 17 percent, according to data released in a report issued by Fractracker Alliance in February 2017. To read the complete report, go to:…

As Bill McKibben, the founder of, said in the Nation magazine on August 29, 2018,  “Brown’s administration has approved about 20,000 of them (total oil and gas wells). Offshore, where he has refused to close down existing leases, Sacramento has permitted four times more wells than the federal government has allowed in the deeper waters it controls.” More information:

On June 20, Consumer Watchdog launched a website that allows you to compare California offshore wells under the control of Governor Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump. The numbers are alarming to those who had the mistaken impression that new offshore oil wells aren’t allowed in state waters.

“Brown has called Trump’s federal offshore oil drilling short-sighted and reckless, but the site —— shows Brown controls four times more oil wells in state waters than those Trump controls in federal waters,” according to Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog.

Offshore wells in state waters controlled by the Brown Administration total 5460, versus 1429 offshore wells in federal waters controlled by the Trump administration. Federal waters are those three nautical miles or more off California’s coast.

Of the state wells, 2028 are active; 1336 are production wells, while the rest are support wells like wastewater disposal and water flood/steam flood/observation, etc, according to Kyle Ferrar of the Fractracker Alliance. The federal offshore wells include 702 wells listed as active.

Consumer Watchdog’s site allows you to click on thousands of headshots of Brown or Trump over oil derricks and see the latitude and longitude of the respective state or federal well and which oil company owns it.  The data was provided by the FracTracker Alliance.

“The map proves that when it comes to offshore oil drilling Governor Brown wins the ‘Drill, Baby Drill’ prize, not Donald Trump,”  said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.   “Governor Brown has four times more oil derricks in his hands than President Trump does.  Jerry Brown could end offshore drilling in California tomorrow with an executive order, but he has been all talk and no walk on protecting our coast from oil drilling.”

800 public interest groups from California and around the world, including Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance, in April kicked off a campaign urging Governor Brown to stop the build-out of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure, keep oil and gas in the ground, and take immediate action to protect those most vulnerable to climate change as Brown gets ready for the global climate action summit that he will host September 12-14, 2018, in San Francisco. Read their letter to Brown and about the campaign at

California has prohibited new offshore leases since 1984, but has allowed the expansion of oil drilling in existing leases. Brown has the power as Governor to close down all existing leases and wells through executive action, but he has instead furthered Big Oil’s agenda by presiding over the expansion of offshore drilling in state waters.

This failure of the state’s regulators to comprehensively protect the ocean from offshore drilling is exposed by the expansion of offshore drilling in Southern California waters that began in January 2012 after a network of so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California waters was created under the helm of a Big Oil lobbyist.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012. Reheis-Boyd also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.

State officials and MLPA Initiative advocates repeatedly touted the process led by a Big Oil lobbyist as “open, transparent and inclusive” when it was anything but. The “Yosemites of the Seas” created under an ocean industrialist’s helm failed to protect the ocean from offshore drilling, fracking, military testing, pollution and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan for nationwide offshore oil and gas leases would significantly expand offshore drilling by allowing new leases in waters off Alaska, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. The new offshore drilling plan would have a devastating impact on fish, wildlife and the ocean ecosystem, as well as the fishing, Indigenous and coastal communities that depend on them for their economies, livelihoods and culture.

We must stop both Trump’s plan to expand offshore drilling in federal waters and Brown’s current expansion off offshore wells in state waters to protect our coastal waters from oil industry pollution and spills.

This expansion of offshore drilling occurs within the context of the bigger picture of the expansion of onshore drilling for oil and gas in California. A report published on May 22 by Oil Change International, in collaboration with California-based and national environmental justice and climate groups, reveals how California’s climate leadership requires a managed ramp-down of oil production.
A review of state permitting records in the report “The Sky’s The Limit: California,” shows that more than 20,000 drilling permits, including 12,000 permits for new wells, have been issued during the Brown administration.

“Nearly 8,500 active oil and gas wells are within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals, and are disproportionately located in many of the state’s most polluted communities,” according to the report. “These wells were responsible for 12 percent of statewide oil production in 2016: Phasing out their production would cause a significant but manageable additional drop in production.”

The report makes three major recommendations:

  • “Cease issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implement a 2,500-foot health buffer zone around homes, schools, and hospitals where production must phase out;
  • Develop a plan for the managed decline of California’s entire fossil fuel sector to maximize the effectiveness of the state’s climate policies; and
  • Develop a transition plan that protects people whose livelihoods are affected by the economic shift, including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.”

The report points out that ending new oil and gas permitting and phasing out drilling in sensitive areas will result in 600+ million barrels of oil staying in the ground in California over the next 12 years.

Why has the Brown administration been promoting an expansion of both onshore and offshore drilling in California in his third and fourth terms of office despite frequently speaking as a climate leader at conferences around the world?

It might have something to do with the fact that Jerry Brown has received over $9.8 million from oil companies, gas companies and utilities since he ran for his third term as governor. For more information on Governor Brown and his environmental policies, you can read the report, “How Green Is Jerry Brown?” at:

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