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California lawmakers kill plans to ban oil drilling in state-controlled waters

Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Environmental advocates said they will continue their efforts to eradicate offshore oil production from California’s coastline.

“Ending oil and gas lease sales is complicated but necessary,” said Victoria Rome, director of California government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The current budget surplus gives us an opportunity to address this issue now while holding the polluters accountable. NRDC will continue to work to protect our coastline and marine ecosystems.”

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat, blamed politically powerful trade worker unions for being one of the biggest impediments to the passage of critically needed health and safety restrictions on California’s billion-dollar oil industry. He said unions used their influence with Democratic lawmakers in 2020 to kill his bill that would have required setback distances between oil and gas wells and residential areas — and that the labor groups did the same years before with his bill to require the area’s major oil refineries to end the use of hazardous hydrofluoric acid.

“Labor is perhaps the biggest supporter of the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates,” Muratsuchi said in an interview in late April. “The public needs to know ... Why is it that deep blue state like California can’t pass more policies, more bills, to phase out fossil fuels?”

Opponents of SB 953 argued that ending the oil leases would not only have burdened California taxpayers but decreased California’s local oil supply at a time when gasoline prices are at record highs. Reducing local oil production also would require the state to import more oil by tanker ship and train, which also pose environmental risks.

“SB 953 was held because it didn’t work — it was going to cost the state billions of dollars for a symbolic victory,” said Andrew Meredith, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a prominent labor organization that represents oil workers. “The California Senate is rightfully more concerned with actually improving the plight of workers and our environment than chasing headlines.”


Meredith said Muratsuchi’s criticisms were misguided.

“I can assure Mr. Muratsuchi that the strict environmental regulations and worker protections in California far exceed those in Saudi Arabia, the Amazon rainforest and even Russia — where he’d prefer California buy the oil and gas California is dependent on to power its 30 million cars and trucks, " he said.

Min’s bill would have required the State Lands Commission to conduct an amortization study of the three oil and gas leases in state waters. The study would have included an estimate of the expected revenue from the leases and the expected costs the oil companies face in decommissioning the oil rigs — a requirement in the existing leases — including removing all structures, plugging wells and restoring the ocean floor.

There are 11 active oil and gas leases in state waters along the California coast, all of which were granted drilling rights between 1938 and 1968. During legislative hearings earlier this year on the Orange County oil spill, Jennifer Lucchesi, executive director of the State Lands Commission, said those leases have no end date and will continue as long as it is “economical” for the oil companies to continue production.

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