Big Oil spent over $34.2 million lobbying California officials in the 2021-22 session

On January 26, environmental justice advocates demanded an end to the revolving door between Big Oil and state regulators in Sacramento. The protesters gathered at FDR Park and then marched to march to the CalGEM offices on 715 P St. Photo by Dan Bacher. |

By Dan Bacher | 

The oil and gas industry in California spent over $34.2 million in the 2021-22 Legislative Session against SB 1137, legislation to mandate 3200-foot buffer zones around oil and gas wells, and other bills they were opposed to.

Although the fossil fuel industry spent a big gusher of money in the latest session, it wasn’t a record session for Big Oil spending in Sacramento. The record session was in 2015-16 when Big Oil spent $36.1 million lobbying.

Big Oil spent a total of $4,220,214 in lobbying expenses in the last quarter from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022, according to data just posted on the California Secretary of State’s website. That brings the total of oil and gas corporation lobbying expenses to $34,270,001 in the eight quarters of the 2021-22 session:… 

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $11,720,912 in the 2021-22 session. They spent $1,734,594 out of the $4,220,214 spent on lobbying by the oil and gas industry in California in the eighth quarter. 

Chevron Corporation, the San-Ramon based oil giant that is infamous for environmental devastation and degradation from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Richmond, California, spent a total of $8,631,118 lobbying California officials in the 2021-22 session. They spent $782,341 out of the $4,220,214 total fossil fuel lobbying expenses in the fourth quarter. 

For the oil corporations, this lobbying money is just pocket change. As Californians were gouged at the pumps, Chevron reported 2022 earnings of $35.5 billion, more than doubling last year’s $15.6 billion profits, reported Consumer Watchdog:…

Five major oil companies have reported their 2022 profits, smashing last year’s highs:

Exxon: $55.7 billion — setting a company record and bringing in $6.3 million an hour

Chevron: $36.5 billion – doubling their 2021 profits, with executives flaunting their “outstanding results” in an earnings call

Marathon: $14.5 billion — Q4 profit of $3.32 billion surged 331% from previous year

Valero: $11.6 billion – 866% higher than the previous year

Phillips 66: $11 billion — Q4 profit of $1.9 billion up 46% over Q4 2021

While a long and hard-fought campaign by environmental justice groups, with the help of Governor Gavin Newsom, was able to finally get SB 1137 approved by the Legislature, other important bills were stopped by oil industry-backed legislators. Those measures include a bill to ban offshore drilling off the California coast and another bill to divest State of California pension funds from investments in the fossil fuel industry.

In addition to stopping key climate justice bills, the gusher of Big Oil and Big Gas lobbying money also resulted in the approval of many new and reworked oil and gas well permits approved by the Gavin Newsom administration. Since 2019, CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulator, has approved an astounding 13,725 total permits for oil and gas drilling in California, according to Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance.

CalGEM approved a total of 3,382 permits in 2022, including 551 new well permits and 2,831 oil well rework permits.    

But the money spent by the oil and gas industry in the 2021-22 session on lobbying was just part of the gusher of money that they spent to maintain their control over the regulatory apparatus in Sacramento. 

The oil industry also spent $20 million in just two months to  gather the signatures for a referendum to reverse SB1137, the law that mandates 3200 foot health and safety setbacks around new and reworked oil and gas wells, as gas prices soared throughout California.

In addition, the oil and gas industry also spent millions of dollars for legislative candidates it favored in the November 2022 election. The biggest sources of outside spending in legislative races in the November 2022 election cycle were oil and gas companies and electric utilities, according to Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal of Cal Matters.

“Those organizations have spent more than $7.6 million, roughly one-fifth of the total. Most of that spending happened before Newsom announced a December special legislative session on his oil tax plan.”

Big Oil has been able to get away with what it does in California for decades because of the enormous influence the Western States Petroleum Association and oil and gas companies, have exerted over the California Legislature, regulatory agencies and media.

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, 2022.

“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.  

The eight methods the fossil fuel industry uses to capture the system

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.    

WSPA and Big Oil have for years worked closely with media outlets and more recently have sponsored awards for legislators and journalists.

For example, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA President and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” on the South Coast, was on the “short list” of nominees for the LA Times “Inspirational Women Awards” held on October 18, 2022.

Can you guess who was one of the sponsors of the LA Times awards? Yes, you guessed right — WSPA was a sponsor.

According to a tweet from @OfficialWSPA, “Today @latimes acknowledged a woman who is already well known in our industry as a trailblazer and inspiration to tens of thousands of women. Congrats to our fearless leader @WSPAPrez for being recognized as a shortlisted nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards.”

In addition, four LA Times reporters this year received the “Courage in Journalism” award from the Sacramento Press Club. Yes, the Western States Petroleum Association was one of the sponsors of these awards also.

In 2015, I wrote this article about how LA Times and the California Resources Corporation teamed up on a propaganda website: Fortunately, the Times is no longer managing and running that website.   

Environmental justice activists demand an end to the revolving door  

On January 26, environmental justice advocates gathered outside the California Natural Resources building in Sacramento for a protest urging Governor Newsom to appoint someone with a public health and legal background to head up the state oil regulator California Geological Energy Management (CalGEM).

Uduak-Joe Ntuck, a former Chevron employee who was head of the agency since 2019, abruptly stepped down in January following a dramatic spike in drilling permits.

In the last quarter of 2022, just before leaving the captured, scandal-ridden agency, he approved more than 1000 permits, a 754% uptick from the same quarter in 2021. Nearly half of the approvals (at least 100) allow producers to drill new wells within the state-mandated health and safety buffer zone of 3,200 feet near communities, according to Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance.  

Dozens of advocates performed street theater, made speeches and called on Gov. Newsom to prioritize environmental justice and public health when filling the vacancy at the agency. Organizers installed a revolving door prop in front of the agency that rotated to reveal the word “Regulators” on one side and “Big Oil” on the other to highlight the need to end the “revolving door” of industry insiders serving as regulators.   

‘The protest was set against the backdrop of Chevron’s announcement that they will launch a massive $75 billion share buyback to further enrich their shareholders ahead of the Q4 earnings report due tomorrow. Advocates encouraged Gov Newsom, who has been escalating his rhetoric with the oil industry over price gouging at the pump, to get his rogue agency back on track and end the vicious cycle of industry insiders serving as irresponsible regulators,” according to a press statement from the groups.  

“We have an opportunity to change the direction of this agency towards enacting the state’s climate goals and protecting the health of Californians,” said Ilonka Zlatar, Climate Justice Organizer with Oil and Gas Action Network. “CalGEM has the authority to stop issuing problematic permits –especially in residential areas– right now, if their leadership willed it and was not connected with oil companies. It is time to break the cycle of the revolving door cycle and finally separate oil and state.”

“Counts of new drilling permits in neighborhoods and frontline communities saw an unprecedented increase in the last quarter of 2022. The policies that allowed that to happen increased the risk of birth defects, asthma, and cancer for marginalized communities of color,” said Kyle Ferrar, Coordinator at FracTracker Alliance.“Governor Newsom’s choice for a new CalGEM Director will signal whether or not California continues to prioritize Big Oil profits over the lives of black and brown Californians.” 

“We showed up today to send a message,” said Zoe Jonick, People vs. Fossil Fuels Organizer at 350 Bay Area. “If Newsom continues to appoint Big Oil and Gas people to the division responsible for keeping Oil and Gas in line, we’re going to keep getting drilling sites in our backyards. We need officials that will prioritize public health and safety above the interests of the fossil fuel industry – as is their duty to Californians.” 

“For many years, we have been accumulating scientific data that indicate a strong association between living in proximity to oil drilling sites and a host of health effects, including risky birth outcomes and asthma – all the while,  babies have been born prematurely and children with asthma have had to fight for their breath,” said Barbara Sattler, RN, Professor Emeritus, University of San Francisco. “It’s time to heed the science, protect our children’s health, and put a public health-oriented official in charge of CalGEM.”Today we demonstrated in front of the CalGEM office to indicate our frustration with the state’s cavalier and dangerous approach to regulating oil drilling in our state. The time has come for CalGEM to stop issuing new permits, start evaluating the health risks posed by the current permits and existing wells, and take the public’s health seriously.” 

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