Deep regulatory capture by Big Oil is thriving in California, despite continual boasting by politicians that the state is the nation's "green" and "progressive" leader.
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, has spent over $17.5 million lobbying the California Legislature and other state officials over the past three years.
In 2021, WSPA spent $4,397,004 lobbying legislators and state officials to serve Big Oil's agenda, according to data filed with California Secretary of State’s Office.
The association spent $957,137 on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2021. The money went to an array of in-house lobbyists and outside lobbying firms, topped by Ramball Environ in Philadelphia that received $116,981 in the fourth quarter and $366,864 in 2021.
In 2021, WSPA lobbied on the following legislation and ongoing processes, giving you an idea of the vast array of processes that WSPA was involved in influencing:
SB 342; LEGISLATURE - CARBON NEUTRALITY, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE GOALS, GENERAL EDUCATION ON OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS PRODUCTION, EDUCATION ON UPSTREAM AND DOWNSTREAM ISSUES, CARBON CAPTURE, UTILISATION AND STORAGE, OFFSHORE PRODUCTION; DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION - CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY, OIL AND GAS PRODUCTION POLICY, - PUBLIC HEALTH RULEMAKING, HEALTH AND SAFETY INITIATIVE, CARBON CAPTURE, UTILISATION AND STORAGE, SETBACKS, UNDERGROUND INJECTION CONTROL; GOVERNOR'S OFFICE - CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY, OIL AND GAS PRODUCTION POLICY, - CARBON CAPTURE, UTILISATION AND STORAGE, SETBACKS, OFFSHORE PRODUCTION; STATE WATER RESOURCE CONTROL BOARD - PERAND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES; CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD - AB 32 IMPLEMENTATION,CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY,OIL AND GAS PRODUCTION POLICY, SCOPING PLAN, LOW CARBON FUEL STANDARD, CARBON NEUTRALITY; CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL - HAZARDOUS WASTE REPORTING FRAMEWORK; CALIFORNIA DIVISION OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH - PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS; CALIFORNIA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION - R. 18-12-005,R. 20-01-007,R. 20-05-002,R. 21-06-017; OFFICE OF STATE FIRE MARSHAL - PIPELINE FEE INCREASE
In the first quarter of 2022, WSPA continued its lobbying spending spree, dumping $952,366.91 into lobbying California officials, according to the latest data from the California Secretary of State’s website. Chevron spent even more money than WSPA in lobbying, $1,016,168.17, during the quarter.
However, it wasn’t either WSPA or Chevron that topped the fossil fuel lobbying expenses in the first quarter. Sempra Energy and Affiliates, including SoCalGas and the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, moved into first place with $1,961,178.39 in expenses in just the three month period.
Altogether, WSPA, Chevron, Sempra and other oil and gas corporations and trade associations pumped a a total of $6 million into advancing the fossil fuel industry agenda in 2022’s first quarter.
In the first quarter, WSPA lobbied on the following legislation and ongoing processes:
AB1001,1059,1218,1322,1643,1676,1694,1738,1749,1873,1897,2041,2106,2108,2141,2143,2204,2447,2578,2609,2674,2793,2893,2910 - ,2931,2944; SB 260,342,582,905,953,1010,1030,1039,1075,1101,1132,1136,1173,1295,1301,1314,1322,1391,1423; LEGISLATURE - C - ALIFORNIA CLIMATE STRATEGY,HEALTH AND SAFETY RULEMAKING,CARBON CAPTURE,UTILISATION AND STORAGE; DEPAR - TMENT OF CONSERVATION - IDLE WELL BRIEFING,PUBLIC HEALTH RULEMAKING,CARBON CAPTURE,UTILISATION AND STOR - AGE,SETBACKS,UNDERGROUND INJECTION CONTROL; GOVERNOR'S OFFICE - UPSTREAM PERMITTING,CALIFORNIA CLIMATE STRATEGY,HEALTH AND SAFETY RULEMAKING,CARBON CAPTURE,UTILISATION AND STORAGE,SETBACKS; STATE WATER - RESOURCE CONTROL BOARD - TOXICITY PROVISIONS; CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD - CALIFORNIA CLIMATE STRAT - EGY,LOW CARBON FUEL STANDARD,AB 32 SCOPING PLAN,CARBON NEUTRALITY; CALIFORNIA DIVISION OF OCCUPATIONAL - SAFETY AND HEALTH - PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS
The spending by WSPA and Chevron reflects a pattern of spending that the two have engaged in over the past two decades. WSPA spent a total of $8.8 million in 2019 and $4,267,181 in 2020 on lobbying California legislators and officials as thousands of oil and gas drilling permits were approved by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency: www.citywatchla.com/...
In 2020, even a weak bill recommending health and safety setbacks around oil and gas failed to get through the oil industry-friendly California Legislature.
Then in 2021, another stronger bill, SB 467, failed to pass throughout the legislature because of heavy oil industry lobbying of legislators, including those who had received big campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. The bill would have banned fracking by 2023 eliminating fracking and instituting mandatory health and safety zones between oil and gas extraction and places where Californians live, work, and study.
However, the inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators is most dramatically evidenced by the approval of thousands of new and reworked oil and gas well permits by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, since Newsom took office in January 2019.
On the same day the LA City Council voted to ban oil and gas wells in city limits, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported that Governor Newsom has approved 10,212 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019. The total is nearly identical to the number of permits Governor Jerry Brown approved in his first three years.
The good news is that permits issued fell from the number issued in 2020, according to an analysis by FracTracker Alliance of permits approved through December 31, 2021, and posted by Consumer Watchdog at www.Newsomwellwatch.org.
“Nevertheless, Newsom’s number is nipping on the heels of Brown’s 10,268 permits dispensed in his first three years in office. Brown ultimately approved 31,545 wells during his eight years in office,” the groups revealed.
“We are pleased to see that Governor Newsom’s oil regulators are approving fewer permits,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Energy Project Director Liza Tucker. “But the Administration should not have crossed that 10,000-permit threshold and needs to ban any permits for any drilling if we are to protect the public and the planet—starting with environmental justice communities.”
Tucker said overall permit approvals for drilling new oil and gas wells fell 73% over last year. But permit application submissions from oil and gas operators for new drilling permits also dropped 44% in 2021, according to FracTracker Alliance analysis of state data.
“The decrease in the number of new drilling permits issued in 2021 versus 2020 is a consequence of the downturn in the market and has nothing to do with policy decisions,” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FracTracker Alliance. “This is why we need Governor Newsom to take a leadership role, so that our health in California is not determined by the pressures of an extractive capitalist market.”
Governor Newsom has issued a ban on fracking as of 2024, while his regulators have begun denying fracking permits, said Tucker.
Fracking permits fell 90% over last year. However, fracking produces only 2 percent of the state’s oil and gas, according to CalGEM.
Nevertheless, Tucker noted that permit approvals for cyclic steaming, steam, water flooding and other enhanced techniques more commonly used to coax oil out of the ground also fell.
“As of December 31, 2021, oil regulators had issued a total of 542 permits for drilling new oil and gas wells, down 73% over 2020. Regulators issued 1,519 permits to rework existing wells, down 13% from the year before. Overall, California dispensed a total of 2,061 permits, down 45% over last year,” the groups disclosed.
The intense lobbying by WSPA and other oil companies over the years has resulted in widespread widespread air, ground and water pollution with huge health impacts on mostly Black and Brown communities living near oil and gas wells.
Between 2008 and 2018 alone, oil and gas companies created a statewide total of over 1.3 trillion gallons of oil and gas wastewater in California, enough liquid to fill over 17.6 million household bathtubs, according to a report released by Earthworks, along with allies VISION California and Center for Biological Diversity.
The report reveals that California, often portrayed by the state’s politicians and national media as the nation’s “green” and “progressive” leader, is actually one of the worst states in the U.S. when it comes to regulating the oil and gas industry’s waste.
The regulatory failures range from allowing crops to be irrigated with potentially toxic and radioactive wastewater to storing waste in unlined pits or injecting it into protected groundwater aquifers, according to Earthworks.
Since the first oil well was drilled in California in 1861, oil production has steadily grown in the state. In 2017, California was fourth in the nation in crude oil production, the report noted.
However, by February 2019, the state dropped to seventh largest producer as measured in barrels per month. California still produced over 160 million barrels in 2019, despite its dropping share of national crude oil production, the report stated.
Lobbying is just one of the eight methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators.
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.
In one glaring example of oil and gas industry officials serving on regulatory panels, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012, as well as serving on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.
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