Bill to Hold Oil Drillers Presumptively Liable For Harms in Drilling Safety Zones Garners Support of 130+ Group Coalition

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Sacramento, CA – New legislation gives people who have developed cancer, respiratory illnesses and birth defects the right to hold oil drillers liable for their illnesses if they live, work, or go to school within 3200 feet of oil drilling and if the company did not use the best technologies to mitigate risk.  

In such cases, the oil drillers and their boards of directors would have the presumption of liability for damages with minimum penalties of $250,000 and maximum penalties of $1 million.  The presumption could be rebutted if the companies proved the illnesses were caused another way.

SB 556, authored by California State Senator Lena Gonzalez, builds on scientific evidence proving a direct link between drilling and these maladies, the same evidence that was used to enact SB 1137 (Gonzalez), which banned drilling in the 3200 foot “set-back” zone.  Oil drillers qualified a referendum that put SB 1137 on hold until voters vote on it in November 2024.  

If SB 556 becomes law, it would further protect communities by making drillers liable for the harms they cause starting January 2024. Its first hearing is April 25th in the California Senate Judiciary Committee.

A coalition of more than 130 environmental, community, consumer and public interest groups that recently backed Governor Newsom’s price gouging penalty law (SBx1-2) are now supporting SB 556 in order to protect community health. Read their letter. 

“Oil drillers who have disregarded the detrimental impacts to communities they drill in, need to be accountable for the harms they cause that are scientifically linked to their drilling,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Long Beach). “If oil drillers want to continue their operations without using the best available technology that can help protect the health and wellbeing of our communities they should face legal accountability to the families harmed by their actions.”

“Living near oil wells and gas production facilities increases one’s risk of asthma, respiratory problems, pre-term births, high-risk pregnancies, and cancer,” the more than 130 groups wrote in their letter of support for SB 556.  “If oil and gas companies are going to continue to endanger the health of California residents, it is only fair they pay the costs when those residents get sick.”  

The groups include Central California Environmental Justice Network, California Environmental Justice Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race Poverty & the Environment, Communities for A Better Environment, CALPIRG, Environment California, Consumer Watchdog, Food and Water Watch, and Sierra Club. 

“Over 2.1 million Californians live within half a mile of oil and gas wells, and that number will continue to increase with the addition of new wells,” the letter states. “Moreover, environmental impacts disproportionally affect communities that are low-income and largely of color. One third of the Californians who live near wells are additionally burdened by environmental pollution and over 90% are people of color.”

SB 556 is co-sponsored by Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

“The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment is excited to co-sponsor SB 556 (Gonzalez), which empowers communities to hold oil companies accountable for the health harms they cause by lifting the weight of the burden of proof from impacted people’s shoulders,” said Kayla Karimi, staff attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “This bill is a crucial innovation in the fight to protect the health of our communities, and we are excited to work with Consumer Watchdog and Senator Gonzalez to pass it into law.”

“If drillers want to drill in unsafe ways, they should be presumed to be accountable for the harm they cause,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “Like the gun industry that is liable for unsafe conduct in the manufacturer and distribution of weapons in California, oil drillers that ignore safety standards should be presumptively liable for the illnesses linked to their negligence. SB 556 reverses the burden from the individual to the driller when drillers ignore safety standards.”

Members of the Last Chance Alliance offered the following comments:

Kobi Naseck, Coalition Coordinator, Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISIÓN)

“For frontline communities, and for every single Californian who’s more and more affected by the hazardous consequences of a changing climate, this bill is about justice. It’s about holding polluters, who have known for years about the horrible health consequences of drilling in so-called “sacrifice zones,” accountable for their years of damage. It’s time for polluters to pay up. How much longer are tax payers and working families supposed to foot the bill for their sins?” 

Meghan Sahli-Wells, California Director, Elected Officials to Protect America – Code Blue, Former Culver City Mayor

“Our Elected Officials to Protect America California network of over 460 elected officials from 49 counties, representing more than half of Californians, have fought for science-based public health setbacks to protect our communities from oil and gas industry pollution. Our communities have suffered for far too long, forced to breathe toxic air and live on contaminated soil from oil and gas facilities in our neighborhoods. As the industry callously attempts to roll back setback laws enacted to safeguard our health, the Newsom Administration must use the authority it has now to deny permits next to homes, schools, hospitals, and places of worship, and stop the oil and gas industry from poisoning California’s most vulnerable residents.” 

Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles

“For decades, Californians have been paying the ultimate price to the oil and gas industry- their health. Failure to prioritize health and safety has left many communities across the state plagued by respiratory illness, birth defects, and cancer from daily exposure to oil extraction operations. We’ve known the industry’s stance on public health- made even more explicit by its ruthless efforts to roll back health protective setback laws. Declaring the presumption of liability acknowledges what communities have known for years: oil drilling is an inherently dangerous practice that has no place near where we live, work, learn, play and pray. We urge the Legislature and the Governor to finally hold Big Oil accountable for so many years of damage.”  

Raquel Mason, Policy Manager, California Environmental Justice Alliance 

This bill is a game changer. It takes something all of our frontline community members know to be true – that living near oil and gas wells makes you and your family sick – and entrenches that truth into law. It is critical for the health and safety of Californians everywhere that the Legislature and the Governor pass this bill. People need the legal power to stand up to big corporations.

Brandon Dawson, Director, Sierra Club California 

“SB 556 is a much-needed, common sense piece of legislation that we urge the California legislature to pass. For too long, the oil and gas industry has gotten away with endangering the health and environment of black and brown communities. This bill will help ameliorate those impacts and set California on a path to climate leadership by protecting our most vulnerable.” 

Chirag Bhakta, California Director, Food & Water Watch

“For too long, the fossil fuel industry has profited from polluting our communities. Every day, the two million Californians who live within a mile of an active oil well pay the price with their health as they face the increased risk of cancer, respiratory diseases, and pregnancy complications. 

“SB 556 would begin to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for the health impacts of their production. Our Legislature and our Governor must act to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damage done to generations of Californians. Our communities and our climate are not something to be sacrificed for Big Oil’s bottomline.” 

Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Amy Moas, Ph.D.

If someone crashes into you on the highway, they are generally responsible for paying for the damages to you and your car. Senate Bill 556 follows the exact same logic. If you live near an oil and gas company’s drilling project and are diagnosed with asthma or cancer, they should be held responsible for those impacts. This is common sense.

“Scientists have told us for years that oil wells leak toxic compounds that are harmful to human health, and last year, California successfully established a 3,200-foot buffer zone in response to that hazard. But Big Oil shelled out millions to put this on pause. If oil and gas companies want to drill dangerously close to where people live, work, and play – and they’ve shown they’re willing to spend millions to do so – then they should be held financially responsible for the public health crisis they are creating.” 

Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. 

“This bill connects the dots between toxic oil and gas pollution and the health harms it causes. For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability despite mountains of evidence that their pollution makes people sick. It’s high time the onus was put on oil companies to prove their dirty activities aren’t the cause of rampant health harms. The California legislature needs to pass these overdue community protection and accountability measures, and it needs to redouble its efforts to stop oil and gas drilling so people don’t get sick in the first place.”

Signers include:

1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations 

350 Bay Area Action

350 Butte County

350 Conejo/San Fernando Valley

350 Humboldt

350 Petaluma

350 Sacramento

350 Santa Barbara

350 South Bay Los Angeles

350 Southland Legislative Alliance

350 Ventura County Climate Hub

350 Marin

Action for the Climate Emergency

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Asian Pacific Environmental Network Azul

Ballona Wetlands Institute

Ban SUP (Single Use Plastic)

Bay Area-System Change not Climate Change

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community


Breast Cancer Action

California Businesses for a Sustainable Climate

California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA)

California Environmental Voters California Kitchen

California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice

California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)

CatholicNetwork US

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ)

Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

Central California Asthma Collaborative

Central California Environmental Justice Network

Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ)

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Santa Cruz Chapter

Climate Action California

Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG)

Climate Hawks Vote

Climate Health Now

Coastal Lands Action Network


Consumer Watchdog

Contra Costa County Climate Leaders

Contra Costa MoveOn

Defend Ballona Wetlands

Earth Care Alliance

East Contra Costa Democratic Club

Ecology Center

El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpia de Kettleman City

Elders Climate Action, NorCal and SoCal Chapters

Elected Officials to Protect America Code Blue Solutions

Environment California

Environmental Justice Coalition for Water

Environmental Working Group Equity Transit

Extinction Rebellion San Francisco Bay Area

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Feminists in Action, Los Angeles 

Food & Water Watch

Food Empowerment Project 

Fossil Free California 

FracTracker Alliance

Fresnans against Fracking

Friends of the Earth US

Glendale Environmental Coalition

Good Neighbor Steering Committee of Benicia

Greenpeace USA

Health Justice Commons

Honor the Earth

Indigenous Environmental Network 

Indivisible CA Green Team 

Indivisible Marin

Indivisible Sacramento

Indivisible San Francisco 

Indivisible San Jose

Indivisible Ventura

Indivisible Yolo

Lakota People’s Law Project

Let’s Go Farm

Let’s Green CA!

Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network, Inc. (LiKEN)

Local Clean Energy Alliance Long Beach 350

Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator 

Manhattan Beach Huddle

Menlo Spark

Mothers Out Front

Natural Resources Defense Council

NextGen California


Oil and Gas Action Network


Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab

Partners for Future Minds

Pelican Media

Physicians for Social Responsibility – Sacramento

Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles

Pink Panthers

Planting Justice

Plumas County Democrats Presentation Sisters San Francisco 

Puvunga Wetlands Protectors 

RapidShift Network

Redeemer Community Partnership 

Resource Renewal Institute 

Romero Institute 

San Diego 350

San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility

Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition

Santa Cruz Climate Action Network

Santa Cruz County Democratic Party

Save the Environmental Protection Agency

Sierra Club CA

SoCal 350 Climate Action


Spottswoode Winery, Inc.

Sunflower Alliance

Sustainable Mill Valley

System Change Not Climate Change

The Climate Center

The Greenlining Institute

Transformative Wealth Management, LLC

Transition Sebastopol

Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISIÓN)

Vote Solar

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club

West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe JobsWishtoyo Foundation 

Youth Vs Apocalypse

Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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