California bill to stop Trump’s offshore drilling passes Committee

  • Published on April 26th, 2018

Legislation authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to block the Trump Administration from expanding offshore drilling in new leases off the California coast has passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a 6 to 2 vote.

Offshore oil drilling in California MLPA by EarthFirstBy Dan Bacher

Senate Bill 834, legislation reintroduced this January after Big Oil pumped millions of dollars of lobbying money into the campaign to defeat the measure last year, “will ensure that pipelines and other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil development cannot be built in California waters, effectively halting such expanded drilling efforts,” according to Jackson’s Office.

The Trump Administration administration last January proposed a massive expansion in federal offshore oil drilling leases off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Senate Bill 834 will block the expansion in California waters by prohibiting the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development in the three-mile area off the coast that is controlled by the state, according to Jackson’s Office. The bill would also prohibit “any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas.”

“The Trump Administration’s reckless proposal to expand offshore drilling is a direct threat to California’s pristine beaches, marine life and coastal economy,” said Senator Jackson. “Like most of the Trump Administration’s policies, this proposal is dangerous and destructive. SB 834 sends a strong message that California will not let the oil and gas industry undermine our environmental protections.”

This bill banning any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas would also apparently help stop the massive expansion of new offshore oil drilling in state waters that has already occurred under Governor Jerry Brown.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

A broad coalition of conservation, fishing, environmental justice and consumer groups and Tribes backs Jackson’s bill, while the Western States Petroleum Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and California Independent Petroleum Association strongly oppose the legislation.

Writing in opposition, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) notes that “specifically this bill repeals existing authority from the [commission] to issue, renew, modify, or extend a lease or conveyance for oil and natural gas production if the leasewould result in an increase of production from federal waters.” WSPA, the trade association for the oil industry in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, argues that:

  • SB 834 takes authority away from the commission on state tidelands leases.
  • SB 834 contains undefined, overbroad language ending existing production onexisting leases (and notes the uncertainty over how an “increase” in productionwould be determined).
  • SB 834 could force unintended environmental and fiscal consequences by avoiding the use of safer pipelines to transport oil, potential revenues losses and litigation expense.

In spite of California’s reputation as a “green leader,” the oil industry has overseen a big expansion in offshore drilling in state waters in recent years. In February 2017, an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance revealed that Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new offshore drilling wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent. Roughly 171 of them were still active as of a year ago.

In addition, the number of  active onshore oil and gas wells has jumped 23 percent from 53,825 in 2009, the year before Brown was elected Governor, to 66,516 onshore wells at the end of 2016, according to Department of Conservation data.

The number of wells drilled and completed in 2014 alone jumped by 67 percent over 2011 to 6,896 from 4,636 on Governor Brown’s watch. The FracTacker Alliance report is available here: https://www.fractracker.org/2017/02/more-offshore-drilling-ca/

In 1994, the Legislature passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act that prohibited new oil and gas leases in the state’s coastal waters, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, this prohibition on new oil and gas leases hasn’t halted the Brown administration’s massive expansion of new offshore wells in state waters under existing state leases.

SB 834 is jointly authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Assemblymember Al Muratushi (D-Torrance) has authored a similar measure, AB 1775, which passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on April 9th. AB 1775 is jointly authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara).

The Senate Appropriations Committee will hear Senate Bill 834 in the coming weeks.

California’s coastal economy produces approximately $44.5 billion in GDP each year and employs almost half a million people in the state, but that hasn’t stopped the oil industry from drilling new offshore wells that pose a great threat to the fish, wildlife and ecosystem of the state’s coastal waters.

That’s because Big Oil dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations in 2017, the year that the oil industry-written AB 398 passed through the Legislature and Jackson’s bill blocking new federal offshore drilling went into the suspense file.

Outspending all of their competition, Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) placed second with $6.2 million. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million. You can find the information on spending by employers of lobbyists here: cal-access.sos.ca.gov/…

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016.

It will be interesting to see if supporters of SB 834 are able to convince enough legislators, including those who have received donations from the oil and gas industries, to approve the bill in both the Senate and Assembly this year. You can expect an influx of millions of dollars from the Western States Petroleum Association and its members to defeat the legislation.

(Image by Earthfirst)

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.