Bill to End Offshore Oil Drilling in CA Waters Passes First Major Legislative Hurdle

By Dan Bacher | 

SACRAMENTO, CA — New oil leases for offshore oil and gas drilling have been banned in California waters for decades, but the oil industry can keep drilling in state waters 3 miles and less from shore under existing leases.

Senator Dave Min’s Senate Bill (SB) 559 seeks to change this situation by requiring the California State Lands Commission to take immediate steps to terminate the remaining leases for offshore oil drilling in California state waters. 

The bill passed out of its first legislative committee earlier this week. The State Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, chaired by Senator Min, approved the measure by a 7-3 vote.

“As the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Orange County starkly illustrated (as did the 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill), offshore drilling poses a clear and immediate
threat to our beautiful beaches and our vibrant $44 billion a year coastal
economy,” said Senator Min.

“These offshore oil rigs, which were built between the 1960s and 1980s, are long past their shelf life, and the wildcat oil companies that now operate these rigs have no incentives to invest meaningfully in their safety and soundness. We simply cannot afford to have more oil spills, and SB 559 provides an immediate pathway towards shutting these offshore oil platforms down. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee for their support of SB 559,” he argued.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups are supporting the legislation.

"This bill is critical to warding off more devastating spills from the oil industry's decrepit, corroding infrastructure,” said Brady Bradshaw, oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.“Offshore drilling is a public nuisance that’s already done horrific damage to our beautiful coastline, wildlife and the vital coastal economy. We have to ensure that companies pay promptly to clean up their own pollution rather than dumping their toxic messes on Californians.” 

Senator Min said he first introduced a version of this bill in 2022, but it was held in the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He reintroduced the bill last year, and held it while the Lands Commission worked on its study of the potential costs of shutting down and decommissioning these platforms. 

“With an update of that study now in hand, SB 559 would require the State Lands Commission to finalize negotiations for voluntary relinquishment of oil and gas leases. If an agreement is not made by December 31, 2026, the bill requires the Commission to terminate the leases and pay fair compensation if warranted,” according to Min.

California has three remaining oil platforms in operation off the Coast of Orange County: Eva, Emmy, and Ester. All three platforms were constructed between 1963 and 1985, and have lasted decades beyond their intended lifespans. 

As of October 1, 2021, there were a total of 150 reported permits issued by CalGEM, California’s oil and gas regulation, in offshore wells in state waters under existing leases since January 1, 2019, according to an analysis posted at by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. Five of these permits were for new drilling and the remaining 145 for reworks (including sidetracks and deepening operations).

In February 2017, an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fractracker Alliance revealed that Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new or reworked offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent:  

Deep regulatory capture by Big Oil exposed

SB 559 faces an uphill battle because strong opposition to the legislation by the powerful oil industry to the legislation is expected. 

I have documented in article after article how the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the oil companies 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) sponsoring awards ceremonies and dinners, including those for legislators and journalists; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) creating alliances with labor unions, mainly construction trades.

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

For the oil companies, this was just pocket change when you consider that combined profits of California oil refiners, including PBF Energy, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, Valero, and Phillips 66, were $75.4 billion in 2022.  

The two biggest spenders were the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and Chevron. WSPA spent $11.7 million in the 2021-22 session, while Chevron spent a total of $8.6 million lobbying California officials.  

It looks like 2023 could already be a record year for oil and gas spending on lobbying in California even without the fourth quarter expenses in yet.  The total oil and gas money spent on lobbying for the first three quarters of 2023 is $21,973,138, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website:…  

This figure already surpasses the total oil and gas industry lobbying expenses for 2023 — $18 million. The results for the fourth quarter and the total for 2023 won’t become available until January 31, 2024.

Lobbying disclosures from Quarter 3, representing lobbying between July 1 - September 30, 2023, reveal that oil companies and trade associations spent more than $7.2 million on influence-related activities in an all out effort to kill California climate bills and hold Big Oil accountable, according to data compiled by the Climate Center.

The top three lobbying spenders — Chevron, the Western States Petroleum Association, and Aera Energy – far outspent all others in the oil and gas industry. – “Their filings depict opposition to a number of key pieces of climate  and energy related legislation, including SBX 1-2 implementation, AB 1167, SB 252, SB 253, SB 261, as well as numerous other bills,” the Center reported.    

The San Ramon-based oil giant Chevron topped third quarter fossil fuel industry lobbying expenditures, doling out a total of $3,866,296 in the third quarter. Of that, $71,192.89 of their influence spending went to WSPA and another $2.18 million to WSPA front group Californians for Energy Independence.

WSPA placed second in fossil fuel industry lobbying expenditures with $1,381,995 spent lobbying the Legislature and other state officials in 2023's third quarter.  

Big Oil lobbyist chaired task force to create faux ‘marine protected areas’

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, describes itself as “non-profit trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.” WSPA’s headquarters is located right here on L Street in Sacramento.

In one of the clearest examples of regulatory capture in recent California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the same time that she lobbying for new offshore drilling in the same region from 2009 to 2013. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2013:…

At the same time that she chaired this panel, Reheis-Boyd’s husband, James Boyd, served as Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission (CEC). In 2009, Consumer Watchdog exposed the apparent conflict of interest presented by James Boyd by sitting on the CEC as his wife oversaw lobbying operations for the big oil companies and refiners in California:

The “marine protected areas” created under the leadership of Reheis-Boyd and others on the task forces failed to protect the ocean from offshore drilling, fracking, pollution, seismic testing and other human impacts on the ocean than recreational and commercial fishing.

In fact, the “marine protected areas” were so badly flawed that Senator Hannah Beth Jackson had to introduce a bill in 2014 to protect a marine protected area, the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve, from oil drilling, due to loopholes in both the California Coastal Sanctuary Act and the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The late Zeke Grader, who supported the bill, pointed out how the very need for the bill "highlights what a failure the MLPA Initiative was.”  

“If these are true marine protected areas, then why are we allowing drilling and other insults to the ocean in them?” asked Grader, then the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).  “The whole MLPA Initiative was a phony process that provided an opportunity for Big Green and government bureaucrats to write press releases claiming these were ‘protected areas’ when in reality the fishermen and Tribes got screwed. We should have bans on oil drilling in all of the marine protected areas." 

While proponents of the neoliberal MLPA Initiative, funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, claimed that the new “marine protected areas” would help to restore abalone, rockfish and other fish populations, the very opposite has happened since the network of “marine protected areas” was completed in 2012.

California is now in its worst-ever fishery crisis, due to abysmal water and fishery management by the same California Natural Resources Agency and California Department of Fish and Wildlife that championed the so-called “marine protected areas at the very same time they were promoting the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnel Project and overseeing the extinction of Delta smelt and winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon populations.

Salmon fishing was closed in the ocean waters of California and most of Oregon and in all California rivers in 2023, due to the collapse of fall-run Chinook populations on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers. The fall-run Chinook salmon population crash on the Sacramento River was spurred by the diversion and export of Sacramento River water to agribusiness and Southern California water agencies during the drought and other factors. Likewise, endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook and spring-chinook populations have declined dramatically in recent years, due to poor water management by the state and federal governments.

Boat-based fishing for rockfish, lingcod and other groundfish was banned off the California coast in less than 300 feet of water for much of 2023, due to concerns about the quillback rockfish populations. 

The once vibrant red abalone fishery on the North Coast is now closed, due to a population crash. The purple sea urchin invasion, spurred by warming ocean water due to climate change, devastated the once extensive coastal kelp forests on the North Coast.

And for the sixth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found no Delta smelt in its Fall Midwater Trawl Survey in 2023. The Delta smelt, once the most abundant fish in the estuary, is virtually extinct in the wild: 

The same state government that promoted the questionable “marine protected areas” as a “solution” to ecosystem and fishery declines has helped to engineer the worst ecological crisis in the state’s history while fast-tracking projects that will make the disaster even worse — the Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and the voluntary agreements.

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