By Dan Bacher, RED GREEN & BLUE
September 23, 2020
In a letter released today, two advocacy groups, Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance, challenged the state’s Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk “to be honest with the public about the data” on oil drilling in the state They said his refusal to acknowledge data published by the Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) “sullies CalGEM and reflects poorly on an Administration that claims desperately to want to stem the cruel tide of climate change.”
The groups also called upon Ntuk to clear up the record and to publish the numbers of wells actually drilled and wells actually plugged as opposed to merely the number of permits issued for those activities.
Read the letter here:https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/CalGEMLtr9-22-20.pdf
At issue is CalGEM data that show an increase of 185% in permits to drill new oil and gas (O&G) production wells in the first six months of 2020. The groups say they “clearly broke this classification out from the rest of the permitting data that includes ‘Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and Support wells.’”
“EOR wells use toxic chemicals and energy intensive techniques to bring low quality oil to the surface, but can also cause spills and destabilize the casing integrity of nearby wells. These permits decreased in the first six months, bringing the total increase for both new O&G and EOR drilling permits to 8.68%,” the groups said.
The permit numbers and well locations are also posted and updated on an interactive map at the website: NewsomWellWatch.com
The groups claim that Ntuk refuses to acknowledge the huge jump in new oil production well permits specifically, suggesting that the groups made a mistake when they did not. As the advocacy groups pointed out in a letter to Ntuk, the rise in oil and gas production wells of 185% is “particularly important” for public health.
“Our focus on oil and gas production wells is directly related to the implications for public health associated with oil and gas extraction. We consider new oil and gas production wells as particularly high risk because they are sources of toxic and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hydrocarbons that degrade local air quality. This impacts the health of 5.4 million people living in Frontline Communities within a mile of these wells,” Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance said.
“We write to ask that you set the record straight,” the groups wrote. “According to the data, it is undeniable that permits to drill new oil and gas production wells rose 185% and disingenuous to suggest that we ‘misinterpreted’ the data,” the letter that provided a chart with the breakdown of different well permits continued.
“It also is incorrect to suggest that the number of permits issued for sealing old wells outpaces the number of permits for new wells,” the letter explained. “According to state data, CalGEM issued 1,820 permits to plug up existing wells in the first six months versus a total of 2,673 new drilling and rework (including well deepening and sidetracking) permits, in addition to 48 fracking permits, expanding oil production.
“In order to find solutions to the terrible climate disaster and wildfires plaguing California today, we must be honest with the public about the data and what it shows us. Claiming our publication of CalGEM’s own data is inaccurate when it clearly is not sullies CalGEM and reflects poorly on an Administration that claims desperately to want to stem the cruel tide of climate change. We look forward to your correction of the record,” the letter concluded.
For more, see:
Climate change is real — and California issues new oil and gas drilling permits
In a meeting and press conference regarding the California fires with President Donald Trump on September 14, Newsom told Trump: “The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. The evidence is all around us — climate change is REAL.”
However, Newsom’s words contrast dramatically with his actions on climate change. Since he become Governor in January 2019, Newsom’s regulators have approved a total of 7071 oil and gas drilling permits in California, according to the data from Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance.
The agency in charge of regulating oil and gas drilling, CalGEM, has approved over 1540 new oil and gas drilling permits in 2020 to date. 185% more oil and gas drilling permits were issued in the first six months of this year than in the same six months last year under Governor Newsom,
The permit numbers and locations are posted and updated on an interactive map at the website: NewsomWellWatch.com
Background: Big Oil Regulatory Capture in California
The reason why the Newsom is approving increasing numbers of oil and gas permits is due to the uncomfortable fact that the oil industry is the most powerful corporate lobby in California and exercises enormous influence over the Governor’s Office, the State Legislature and the State’s regulatory panels, commissions and panels.
Last year the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful lobbying organization in the state, pumped more money into lobbying than any other organization in California, spending a total of $8.8 million. The San Ramon-based Chevron pumped the third most money into lobbying, a total of $5.9 million. The lobbying expenses of the two oil industry giants came to a total of $14.7 million.
During the first quarter of 2020, at the same time that the Newsom Administration approved 1,623 total oil drilling permits, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent $1,089,702 lobbying state officials.
Chevron spent even more: $1,638,497 in the first quarter of 2020 to influence legislators, the Governor’s Office and other state officials. The two oil industry giants combined to spend a total of $2,728,199 lobbying from January 1-March 31.
In the second quarter of 2020, WSPA spent $1,220,986 while Chevron spent $974,322 on lobbying in California, a total of $2,195,308.
Big Oil’s tentacles extend far and wide in California politics. Lobbying is just one of the methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 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; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.
A classic example of deep regulatory capture in California is how 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 “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the same time that she was lobbying for new oil drilling off the West Coast. Yet corporate “environmental” groups strongly supported the oil lobbyist-led process, claiming it was “open, transparent and inclusive” when it was anything but.