Western States Petroleum Association Spent $17.5 Million Lobbying CA Officials Past 3 Years

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By Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

February 2, 2022


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.    

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 but similar bill 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 inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators has resulted in the approval of thousands of new and reworked oil and gas well permits since Newsom took office in January 2019.

On the same day the LA City Council voted to ban oil and gas wells, 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 the latest analysis by FracTracker Alliance of permits approved through December 31, 2021, and posted by Consumer Watchdog at http://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 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.

Lobbying is just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 7 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 (7) contributing to non profit organizations.  

In one 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.

Consumer Watchdog
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