Senate Committee kills bill to end offshore oil drilling in CA as Big Oil sets new lobbying spending record

By Dan Bacher | 

SACRAMENTO, CA — On January 16, the Senate Appropriations Committee killed two key climate bills, SB 559 and SB 709, due to strong opposition by the powerful oil industry lobby in California. 

    SB 559 would end offshore oil drilling leases in Southern California, while SB 709 would establish transparency standards for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

    The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the oil industry trade organization for the Western states and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in California, led the opposition to SB 559.

    The Center for Biological Diversity, Elders Climate Action, Northern California Chapter, Elders Climate Action, Southern California Chapter, Social Compassion in Legislation and California Climate Voters backed SB 559.  

    The two bills were killed at a time that lobbying spending by the oil industry has shattered records. Big Oil and Big Gas spent an all-time yearly record of $27,003,931 on lobbying in Sacramento in 2023. The lobbying expenditures for the last quarter alone were $4,983,305. 

    You can see the oil and gas industry lobbying expenses here:

    Environmentalists were disappointed by the failure of both bills.

    “This setback raises concerns about the commitment to environmental sustainability and the well-being of our communities,” said Melissa Romero, Deputy Legislative Director, California Environmental Voters, in a statement.

    “The persistence of sacrificing the health and overall success of our most vulnerable communities to sustain an industry that raked in a staggering $4 trillion in global profits last year is troubling. This underscores the urgent need for a reevaluation of priorities and a shift towards cleaner, more sustainable policies,” Romero said.

    “In the face of these disappointments, we call on the Legislature to give precedence to decisive climate action this year by moving climate bills forward. It is imperative that we prioritize the health of our planet and the welfare of our communities over short-term gains, ensuring a sustainable and resilient future for generations to come,” she urged.  

    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 sought 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.  

    After the bill passed through the State Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee by a 7-3 vote, the Senate Appropriations Commitee placed the bill on the suspense file by a unanimous vote of 6-0 and 1 present/NV/

    “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 after introducing the bill.

    “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,” Min stated. 

    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:    

    The other bill, SB 709, makes several changes to how Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)-eligible fuels derived from methane released by dairy manure are treated under the LCFS. The changes include capping credit generation at the volume at the time of pathway approval, striking a guarantee for 10 years of LCFS crediting for dairy biogas projects, substantial changes to the life cycle assessments of dairy biogas, and requiring all data supporting carbon intensity determinations to be made public.

    Background: Big Oil regulatory capture in “green” California 

    The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron and other oil companies wield their influence in California 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.  

    2023 was a record year for oil and gas spending on lobbying in California even without the fourth quarter expenses in. The total oil and gas money spent on lobbying for the first three quarters of 2023 was $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.  

    Lobbying disclosures from Quarter 3, representing lobbying between July 1 - September 30, 2023, revealed 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.  

    Then yesterday the total lobbying expenditures for 2023 were posted on the California Secretary of State’s website, revealing that Big Oil and Big Gas spent an all-time record of $26,801,135 on lobbying in Sacramento in 2023. The lobbying expenditures for the last quarter alone were $4,780,510:

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