Oil Industry, Environmental Leaders Mark 50th Anniversary of Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Offshore drilling opponents protest outside of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Pacific Regional Office in Camarillo, California on January 28. Photo courtesy of Food & Water Watch. | 

By Dan Bacher |  

Oil industry and environmental leaders in California both marked the 50th anniversary of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill on January 28, but they did it in very different ways.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Asssociation and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create "marine protected areas" in Southern California, used the fiftieth anniversary of the spill to claim that the oil industry’s “number one priority” is “maintaining the safety and environmental integrity in the communities where we operate.”

"As we mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic Santa Barbara oil spill, it is important that we remember our coastal communities most affected by this incident and how they’ve inspired not only reform and innovation but a global movement to support environmental protection,” said Reheis-Boyd in a statement.

“In that spirit, the employees of California’s oil and gas industry are fervently committed to continuous safety improvements in all of our operations, whether that be through innovative technologies or by partnering with the dozens of federal, state and local agencies that regulate oil & gas operation in our state. Our number one priority as an industry is in maintaining the safety and environmental integrity in the communities where we operate,” said Reheis Boyd. 

On the other hand, environmental advocates remembered the 50th anniversary of the spill by protesting outside the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Pacific regional office, the federal office working to expand offshore drilling in U.S. waters, in Camarillo, California on Monday. Organizers of the protest included the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Surfrider Foundation, Food and Water Watch, and Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas.

“The Trump administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has continued to work on this five-year leasing plan and communicate with the oil industry during the current federal government shutdown, despite taking no other public input,” according to a press release from the coalition. “The offshore spill that began Jan. 28, 1969 in the Santa Barbara Channel gushed more than 3 million gallons of oil and killed thousands of marine animals and birds. Public outrage over the spill helped spark the modern environmental movement and passage of the country’s most significant environmental laws.”

“President Trump last year proposed expanding offshore drilling into most U.S. oceans, including offering the first leases in the Pacific Ocean since 1984. The next draft of the five-year offshore leasing plan could be released at any time. The plan calls for the first new offshore leases to be offered in hazardous Arctic waters later this year,” the groups stated.

Blake Kopcho, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed out that offshore oil drilling has “taken a devastating toll on our country over the past 50 years.”

“We need to learn from that history instead of adopting a reckless plan that’s doomed to repeat it. Our coastlines and climate can’t take another Santa Barbara spill or Deepwater Horizon disaster. Rather than working to fulfill the oil industry’s wishlist during this government shutdown, we need to permanently shut down offshore drilling,” explained Kopcho.

Tomás Morales Rebecchi, senior Central Coast organizer with Food & Water Watch, discussed how the California coast is both threatened by the proposed opening of federal leases — and the offshore drilling that expanded under existing leases under the Jerry Brown administration. He urged Gavin Newsom to break with the Brown administration’s environmentally destructive policies by “by ending drilling in California state waters and onshore throughout the state.” 

“The 50th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill is a grim reminder of how far we have to go in stopping not only offshore drilling, but onshore oil and gas expansion as well,” said Morales Rebecchi.  “If Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to lead opposition to the Trump administration’s plans to expand dangerous offshore drilling, he should start by ending drilling in California state waters and onshore throughout the state. The vibrant environmental movement sparked by this disaster so many years ago, which includes local communities fighting drilling in their backyards, would welcome his support.” 

While the Governor’s Office press releases and many media outlets touted former Governor Jerry Brown’s credentials as a “climate leader,” Brown Administration regulators issued about 238 permits for new state wells in existing offshore leases, within three miles of the coast. Oil production continued from 1,366 offshore wells in existing leases, according to the California Department of Conservation data analyzed by the Fractracker Alliance in 2017. For more information, go here: www.fractracker.org/...

On September 8,  2018, Brown signed two bills, SB 834 and AB 1775, to block new federal offshore oil drilling along California’s coast, but consumer and environmental justice advocates pointed out that the state needs to also to stop the expansion of new offshore drilling in state waters, where the state controls four times the number of wells that the Donald Trump does.

“During his administration, Brown issued more than 20,000 permits to drill new oil and gas wells in California, and that includes more than 200 permits for off shore wells in state waters -- wells within 3 miles of the California coast,” said Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.

The state under Brown — and now under Gavin Newson - controls four times as many offshore oil wells in state waters as Trump’s federal government controls in California, according to Court. You can view the map showing the location of wells here: http://brownvtrumpoilmap.org    

The reason why Big Oil has been been able to expand offshore and onshore drilling in California in recent years is simple: deep regulatory capture - the capture of the regulators by the regulated — by the Western States Petroleum Association, oil companies and other corporate lobbies. If you want to know the industries, organizations and people that control California, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA, the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in the state, is right at the top of the list.

WSPA represents a who’s who of oil companies, including oil giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Shell, Valero and many others. The companies that WSPA represents account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, according to the WSPA website, www.wspa.org.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 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; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.

WSPA was the top overall oil industry spender during the 2015-16 session, spending $18.7 million. Chevron, the second overall oil industry spender, spent $7 million in the 2015-16 session.  

In 2017, Big Oil also dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations. Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) placed second with $6.2 million. The Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million.  

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016.

In the first six months of 2017, the oil industry spent more on lobbying in California, $16,360,618, in the first six months of 2017 than was spent by the industry in all of 2016, $16.0 million.  

This translates to an average of $2.7 million per month – $90,000 per day – according to a report compiled and written by William Barrett of the Lung Association in California: www.lung.org/…
On January 31, 2019, the lobbying expenses for 2018 by the oil industry will be posted on the California Secretary of State's website. It will be interesting to see what the oil industry spent on lobbying in 2018.

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