Big Oil pumped $25.4 million into lobbying California officials in 2023

By Dan Bacher | 

Big Oil spent more money on lobbying in California in 2023 than any other year on record besides 2017. 

The oil and gas industry spent $25,445,606 on lobbying in California in 2023 and $25,445,606 in 2017, according to the research team at Sunstone Strategies in their “Crude Truth” newsletter.

The group analyzed the California lobbying filings of every registered oil company in California, inputting 2023 trends into the context of industry lobbying for the past 20 years dating back to 2004. While in an earlier report on oil spending I used the raw data on fossil fuel spending from the filings on the California Secretary of State’s website, the newsletter used a slightly different methodology.

“Topping the lobbying spending charts in 2023 was Chevron, the second biggest oil producer in the state and the leading crude oil refiner. Trailing at number two: its trade association, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA),” wrote Sunstone Strategies.

“The two combined spent $18.1 million in 2023 — more than 71% of the industry’s total $25.4 in expenditures for 2023. Aera Energy, California’s top oil producer and a former joint venture of Exxon Mobil and Shell, placed in a distant third for 2023 lobbying spending,” they said.

However, in the fourth quarter, “WSPA and Chevron exchanged the number one and number two spots as the top lobbying spenders. Their expenditures totaled $2.8 million, accounting for over 60% of Big Oil’s quarterly spending total. Trailing in third was ExxonMobil, spending over $243,000 in lobbying for the quarter.” 

The report also revealed that the state’s five major refiners, including Valero, PBF Energy, Marathon Petroleum, and Phillips 66, spent over $2.5 million on 2023 lobbying and influence activities. 

“Occidental subsidiary Oxy Low Carbon Solutions spent more than $147,000,about 75% of its annual lobbying total, seeking Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits to capture carbon out of the ambient air in Texas with a technology known as Direct Air Capture (DAC) — and use it to extract more oil out of the ground in the state’s Permian Basin,” the report noted. “DAC differs from traditional carbon capture in that it claims the ability to vacuum carbon out of the sky via chemical solvents and energy-intensive vacuum systems, as opposed to carbon capture technology, which claims the ability to capture carbon from industrial smokestacks, such as at power plants.” 

The report said the lobbying expenditures “appear to have paid off,” as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued its Initial Statement of Reasons (ISOR) — draft rules for the management of the LCFS — explicitly endorsing DAC within it. CARB’s Board is scheduled for a vote on the proposed ISOR at its March 21 meeting. 

“There are almost no restraints on using DAC to receive LCFS credits within the ISOR, and that includes allowing those credits to finance pumping more oil out of the ground,” the report added.  

As the ISOR notes, “staff is proposing to limit LCFS credit generation eligibility of DAC with sequestration projects to those located in the United States.”

“That leaves Oxy with nearly carte blanche ability to cash in on the credits if its protocol for its Texas facility is accepted by the agency and the LCFS renewal as proposed by CARB’s staff gets sanctified by the Board with a majority vote in March,” the report revealed. “2023 saw historic spends from the oil industry on lobbying.”

“Substantively, Big Oil lobbied against the landmark emissions disclosure bills, SB 253 and SB 261, passed during the third quarter and signed into law during the fourth by Governor Newsom. This was likely an attempt to either convince Newsom to veto the bills or offer a legislative “fix” in advance of the 2024 session. Lobbying for a “fix” became a moot point at the dawn of 2024 when the California Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Central Valley Business Federation (more on them and the lawsuit itself in the next Crude Truth) and others sued the state for passing those laws and thus delayed the implementation of them,” they reported. 

Bill to end offshore drilling killed three years in a row  

One significant bill that failed to make it out of the Legislature three years in a row was Senate Bill (SB) 559, Senator Dave Min’s legislation to end offshore oil drilling under existing leases in California state waters. WSPA and the oil companies lobbied heavily against the landmark bill, resulting in the killing of the bill by the Legislature for the third time in January of this year.

While there has long been a moratorium on the issuance of new oil drilling leases off the coast of California, oil production has continued for the past 40 years under existing leases that were first issued in the 1960s and 1970s.

“After the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, I promised I would fight to end offshore drilling once and for all. Today, I am proud to say that I am continuing to try and keep that promise,” Min said upon introducing the bill in February 2023.

As of October 1, 2021, there were a total of 150 reported permits issued for offshore oil 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:… 

Legislation to protect the Vandenberg Marine Reserve from offshore drilling in 2013 and 2014 was also stopped in the Legislature because of intense opposition by the oil industry.

In one of the clearest examples of deep 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. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast:…  

Big Oil’s other lobbying priorities

Other lobbying priorities of WSPA, Chevron and the other oil corporations cited in the report included: 

  • “Opposing legislation that would hold refiners civilly liable with triple the current assessed fines for toxic chemical releases (AB 1465).  

  • Overturning the price margin cap and windfall profit penalty at the California Energy Commission (CEC), the agency tasked with oversight of the new watchdog unit created when Governor Newsom signed SBX 1-2

  • Attempting to defeat or overhaul AB 1167, a new law passed in 2023 that holds oil companies financially accountable to pay to clean up their orphaned wells. 

  • Defeating legislation known as SB 556 that would hold the industry civilly accountable for public health damages suffered by community members who live within 3,200-feet of wells. The bill was introduced in 2023 but failed to pass.

CalGEM has approved 15,722 new and reworked drilling permits since January 2019

Although a number of key climate bills managed to get through the Legislature despite the all-out lobbying spending frenzy by Big Oil in 2023, the oil and gas regulators in California, the seventh largest oil producing state in the nation, continued to issue new and reworked oil drilling permits.

The Newsom administration has approved a total of 15,789 new and reworked oil wells since January 2019. CalGEM, the state's oil and gas regulator, approved 2,064 total permits in 2023, including 25 new well permits and 2039 oil well rework permits.

As you can see, the approval of new permits has slowed down dramatically, but thousands of oil well rework permits continue to be issued every year as oil companies seek to avoid plugging their wells: 

Why do California regulators continue to approve hundreds of reworked oil drilling permits each quarter as oil companies gouge Californians at the pumps?

It’s all due to regulatory capture by Big Oil and Big Gas in the “green” and “progressive” state of California. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron and the oil companies exercise their influence and power through a very sophisticated public relations machine in California and the U.S.  

WSPA 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.    

Since 2009 I have documented how 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 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.  














































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