Bill to end offshore drilling in California waters passes out of first committee

By Dan Bacher | 

SACRAMENTO, CA — A bill to ban offshore drilling in state waters, Senate Bill 953, passed out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on April 26.

Authored by Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine), the bill is currently on suspense and the outcome will be determined at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations on May 19.  

“This bill would ban offshore drilling in state waters and cease oil production at the three remaining platforms operating off the coast of California by 2024,” according to a statement from Senator Min’s Office. “The legislation comes in the wake of last year’s oil spill that leaked nearly 25,000 gallons of crude oil from a pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach.”

Clean-up efforts spanned from the City of Seal Beach to the Mexico Border. The spill was the largest pipeline rupture in California waters since the environmentally destructive 2015 spill at Refugio Beach on the Santa Barbara County Coast.

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.  

“Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate Natural Resources Committee for passing SB 953,” Senator Min said on April 26. “This legislation is a direct response to last year’s Orange County oil spill and creates an off-ramp to stop offshore oil production at the state’s three remaining oil platforms.”

Min pointed out, “We cannot wait for the next offshore oil spill from one of these three platforms, which have aging infrastructure in place since the 1970s.  I am hopeful that, through the passage of this bill, we can foster further discussions about how the State of California can mitigate the long-term risk of offshore oil spills.  The next event will jeopardize not just our way of life, but our precious marine ecosystems and the $44 billion coastal economy that employs millions of California workers.”  

“The only way to prevent more oil-related disasters like the one we experienced in October of 2021 is to transition off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” added Victoria Rome, NRDC’s (Natural Resources Defense Council) Director of California Government Affairs. “SB 953 allows for negotiations with the industry on how to voluntarily relinquish their state leases. If an agreement can’t be reached, the bill requires termination of those leases with fair compensation provided to the lease holders.” 

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

The bill faces a strong uphill battle by opponents to either stop the bill or gut and amend it, as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) would like to do.

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.  

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. 

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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