Big Oil stops bill to ban offshore drilling in California waters from moving forward



By Dan Bacher | 

SACRAMENTO, CA — Faced by fierce opposition by the Western States Petroleum Association and the oil industry, a bill to end all offshore drilling in California state waters failed to pass out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 19.

Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) made the following statement today about Senate Bill (SB) 953, which did not pass out of the Senate Committee on Appropriation and was held on the Suspense File.  

“Last year’s Orange County oil spill was another wake-up call on the risks that offshore drilling poses to our $44 billion coastal economy, our precious marine ecosystems, and our California way of life.

That spill of nearly 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean sent our small businesses into free fall.  Beaches were closed to the public for ten days. Local fisheries and seafood markets suffered from two months of closures for contamination assessments. Dozens of animals, including endangered species, were found dead along with substantial damage to preserved wetland areas. This could have been much worse. Initially, the expectation was 125,000 gallons of crude spilled, which raised comparisons to the 2015 Refugio State Beach oil spill which closed down local beaches in Santa Barbara for six months.

In response to this oil spill, and community outrage about it, I introduced SB 953 earlier this year, to safeguard our coastal economy and our beaches. And while I am disappointed that SB 953 did not make it off of the Suspense File, I will continue to explore all mechanisms and pathways to try to remove oil rigs off the coast of California. We are continuing to talk with stakeholders to address some of the different substantive concerns, including the potential costs to taxpayers, and make this proposed legislation better.

I am also proud of the fact that SB 953 has jump-started an important and much-needed dialogue about how California can and must transition away from offshore oil extraction. The aging infrastructure of these offshore platforms means they are ticking time bombs. Another oil spill—and all of the associated environmental and economic damage—is inevitable unless we act now.

I remain committed to continuing to work on this issue, and I am hopeful that we will find a path forward.”   

The bill was introduced in February as the Newsom Administration continues to issue new and reworked offshore drilling permits in state waters, those less than 3 miles from shore.

California oil and gas regulators have approved 150 offshore drilling permits in state waters since January 1, 2019. Of those permits, five were for new wells and the rest were for reworking existing wells, according to an analysis of permits approved through October 1, 2021 and posted at by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance.

Currently, 19 oil and gas leases in California’s coastal waters allow drilling up to three miles off the state shoreline and represent 1,200 active wells.  

The bill was supported by a broad coalition of conservation, environmental justice, climate and public interest organizations and was opposed by the California Independent Petroleum Association, State Building and Construction Trades Council and Western States Petroleum Association (unless amended).

The bill faced a strong uphill battle by opponents to either stop the bill or gut and amend it.

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

In the first quarter of 2022, WSPA continued its lobbying spending spree, dumping $952,366.91 into lobbying California officials, according to the latest data from the California Secretary of State’s website. Chevron spent even more money than WSPA in lobbying, $1,016,168.17, during the quarter.

However, it wasn’t either WSPA or Chevron that topped the fossil fuel lobbying expenses in the first quarter. Sempra Energy and Affiliates, including SoCalGas and the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, moved into first place with $1,961,178.39 in expenses in just the three month period.  

Altogether, WSPA, Chevron, Sempra and other oil and gas corporations and trade associations pumped a total of $6 million into advancing the fossil fuel industry agenda in 2022’s first quarter.  

Over the past four years, fossil fuel companies paid almost $77.5 million to lobby lawmakers in Sacramento, reported  Josh Slowiczek in Capital and Main on May 14.

“Oil and gas interests spent four times as much as environmental advocacy groups and almost six times as much as clean energy firms on lobbying efforts in California between 2018 and 2021, according to a Capital & Main analysis — reflecting the intensity of the industry’s efforts to influence policy in a state whose leaders have vowed to build an energy future free of fossil fuels,” Slowiczek wrote.  

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 8 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; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) sponsoring awards ceremonies, including those for legislators and journalists. 

In one glaring example of oil and gas industry officials serving on regulatory panels, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, 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, 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.

California remains a major oil and gas producing state, although it has declined from its place as the nation’s third largest oil producer over the past several years. The state was 7th (2021) and 14th (2020) for oil and marketed natural gas production, respectively, among the 50 states, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Production of oil was about 131M barrels in 2021 and continues to decline from the 1985 peak.

Offshore oil production in state waters is a small contributor to the state’s total oil production, according to the bill’s legislative analysis. State offshore production has generally been declining for decades. For example, production was as high as 40M barrels annually in the mid-1980s, and is now less than 10M barrels annually (6.9M in 2019 according to data from the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM)).

Most of the oil is produced offshore Long Beach under City of Long Beach leases. For 2009 – 2019, about 19% on average of the offshore oil production in state waters was from leases issued by the State Lands Commission – just over 25M barrels during the ten year time period.

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