The Daily Kos – Climate activists protest approval of hundreds of neighborhood oil drilling permits in California

By Dan Bacher, THE DAILY KOS

SACRAMENTO, CA— As regulatory capture by Big Oil and Big Gas becomes deeper and deeper in the supposedly “green” state of California, climate activists with the Last Chance Alliance announced they will hold a protest today outside the California Natural Resources Agency to draw attention to the recent approval of hundreds of oil drilling permits in communities. 

During the lunch hour, from 12-1pm, they will protest in front of the California Natural Resources Agency 715 P Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, to demand that state oil regulator CalGEM halt oil drilling within 3,200 feet of communities.  

“Since the start of the month oil drilling permits have sky rocketed, particularly in the health protection zones that would have been created by SB 1137,” according to a statement from the Last Chance Alliance. “But soon after the bill to end neighborhood drilling was signed into law last Fall, the oil industry launched a multi-million dollar referendum to overturn it.”

“With the fossil fuel industry-backed referendum qualifying for the November 2024 ballot, California’s landmark environmental justice bill and the vital protections it provides have been put on hold. Permits for oil drilling within 3,200 feet of communities have jumped up,” the group said.

“Across the state, industrial oil operations take place just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community risks of asthma, birth defects and cancer. More than 2 million people live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil well. California is one of the last oil producing states in the nation to allow oil drilling in neighborhoods,” the group stated.  

Total number of oil drilling permits soars to over 13,900 since Jan. 2019

The total number of new or reworked permits approved since Governor Gavin Newsom entered office in January 2019 now comes to over 13,900 to date.

Nearly 200 rework permits have been approved by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency since January 1. Of those, 56 rework permits (29%) were issued within the 3,200′ health protection zones that would have been created by SB 1137, according to Kyle Ferrar of the Fractracker Alliance.

Frontline communities and advocates said they are deeply concerned because approvals are only trending upward with more rework permits issued in the first week of March than all of February. They expect to see even more approvals before the first quarter of the year closes out. 

“CalGEM issuing hundreds of permits to negligent oil companies so they can continue drilling in our communities just months after they released an emergency rule to block neighborhood drilling is exactly why we don’t trust them,” said Cesar Aguirre, organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network. “This is exactly the free-for-all that California’s oil industry wanted when they bought their way onto the ballot and forced the stay of SB 1137.”

The California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) sponsored the referendum that has put the implementation of the setbacks law on hold for two years. Filings with the California Secretary of State reveal that oil companies funneled over $20 million  to the committee Stop the Energy Shutdown, a “Coalition Of Small Business Owners, Concerned Taxpayers, Local Energy Producers And The California Independent Petroleum Association.”  

In light of the hold on the implementation of SB 1137 caused by the qualification of the referendum for the November 2024 ballot, oil industry representatives claim that CalGEM has no choice but to approve the permits, even those within the 3200 foot health and safety buffer zone.

“We don’t think CalGEM has the discretion to deny permits that have to meet all the requirements of the law and regulations. That would be arbitrary and capricious, CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association trade group  told the Bakersfield Californian:…

Deep regulatory capture by Big Oil from top to bottom

The announcement of the referendum’s eligibility for the ballot came just three days after Jan. 31 filings with the Secretary of State revealed that the oil and gas industry in California spent over $34.2 million in the 2021-22 Legislative Session against SB 1137 and other bills the oil industry was opposed to, including legislation to ban offshore drilling in state waters and to divest California retirement pensions from oil and gas companies.

The gusher of Big Oil and Big Gas lobbying money also resulted in the approval of many new and reworked oil and gas well permits, including many within the 3200 foot health and safety zone, by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulator. Uduak-Joe Ntuk, the state Oil & Gas Supervisor at the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), recently resigned from his job against the backdrop of a 754% increase in new oil drilling permits issued in the fourth quarter of 2022.

These reworked and new permits for oil drilling this year follow a gusher of oil well permits approved by state oil and gas regulators since Newsom took office in January 2019. The Newsom Administration approved an astounding 13,725 total permits for oil and gas drilling in California from January 2019 through December 31, according to Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance:…

CalGEM approved a total of 3,382 permits in 2022, including 551 new well permits and 2,831 oil well rework permits.  

Big Oil spent a total of $4,220,214 in lobbying expenses in the last quarter from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022. That brings the total of oil and gas corporation lobbying expenses to $34,270,001 in the eight quarters of the 2021-22 session:…  

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $11,720,912 in the 2021-22 session. They spent $1,734,594 out of the $4,220,214 spent on lobbying by the oil and gas industry in California in the eighth quarter.

Chevron Corporation, the San-Ramon based oil giant that is infamous for environmental devastation and degradation from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Richmond, California, spent a total of $8,631,118 lobbying California officials in the 2021-22 session. They spent $782,341out of the $4,220,214 total fossil fuel lobbying expenses in the fourth quarter.

Western States Petroleum Association sponsors ‘media dinner’

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 of the latest examples of the collaboration between Big Oil and the media, the Western States Petroleum Association sponsored a “media dinner” in Sacramento  on Tuesday, February 28, in Sacramento as part of #BizFedSactoDays.

The flyer for the event states, “Journalists who play an outsize role in shaping narratives about state politics and holding lawmakers accountable will join business leaders to pull back the curtain on how they select and tell stories about California policies, policy and power.”

Featured speakers at the program included Coleen Nelson of the Sacramento Bee, Laurel Rosenhall of the Los Angeles Times, Kaitlyn Schallhorn of the Orange County Register and Dan Walters of Cal Matters.

In a tweet, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, gushed:

“One of our favorite times of year is #BizFedSactoDays– when @BizFed helps amplify the presence and power of business in California. And we’re honored to host the Media Dinner and featured media speakers! @DanCALmatters @LaurelRosenhall@ColleenMNelson @K_Schallhorn

This dinner truly marks the end of political satire in “green” California. When #BigOil teams up with journalists, columnists and editors at events like this and hardly anybody other than this writer thinks this is a big story, you know we must be doomed. No, I didn’t attend.

It’s hard to write satirical songs and articles like I used to because the real world has become more bizarre than any satire could be.

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