Exposing the Big Myth: offshore oil drilling has expanded under Governor Jerry Brown

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The Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture held the 45thAnnual Zeke Grader Fisheries Forum at the State Capitol in Sacramento on March 8. Below is a revised version of my testimony before the Committee exposing the huge expansion in offshore oil drilling in Southern California waters in recent years:

There appears to be a widely-held misconception among fishermen, environmentalists and legislators that new offshore oil wells have not been approved off the California coast in recent years.

The reality is much different. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent, according to an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance. Roughly 171 of them were still active as of a year ago.

In addition, the number of  active onshore oil and gas wells has jumped 23 percent from 53,825 in 2009, the year before Brown was elected Governor, to 66,516 onshore wells at the end of 2016, according to Department of Conservation data. The number of wells drilled and completed in 2014 jumped by 67 percent over 2011 to 6,896 from 4,636 on Governor Brown’s watch.

“Brown’s record on oil drilling offshore and on shore is one of expansion,” said Lisa Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog. “That is no longer acceptable. Brown should ban all drilling activity offshore, cut off any planned new oil and gas drilling on shore, and ban fracking outright.”

The FracTacker Alliance report is available here: https://www.fractracker.org/2017/02/more-offshore-drilling-ca/

In addition, regulators approved permits for at least 203 fracking operations off the Southern California coast from 1993 to 2013, according to data revealed in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and an Associated Press investigation in 2013. These fracking operations took place off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach —  a region known for some of California’s most iconic beaches and tourist attractions: www.usatoday.com/…

The desmogblog has also just published a piece documenting the increase in offshore oil drilling in California waters under the Brown administration: www.desmogblog.com/…

While it is true that no new offshore oil leases have been opened up in federal waters off the California coast in recent years, as the Trump administration is proposing to do, the fact is that California has continued to expand offshore drilling in state waters under existing leases and the federal and state governments approved over 200 fracking operations off Southern California over a 20-year period.

The big increase in offshore drilling in state waters and the Trump administration’s proposal to open new leases in response in federal waters makes it crucial that the public support legislation in the California Legislature to protect the state from new offshore oil drilling.

In response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s January 4th announcement to open federal waters along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to new federal offshore oil and gas drilling, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) on January 5 reintroduced legislation ensures that pipelines and other infrastructure cannot be built in California waters to support any new federal oil development. This bill would also serve to stop the approval of new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases.

In the Senate, Jackson is carrying Senate Bill 834, also jointly authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Muratsuchi is carrying an identical companion measure, Assembly Bill 1775, in the State Assembly, also jointly authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), according to a news release from Senator Jackson’s Office.

The legislation prohibits the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development in the three-mile area off the coast that is controlled by the state.SB 844 would also prohibit any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas,according to Jackson’s Office.

This bill faces a major challenge to pass through the Legislature and an even bigger challenge to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown before he leaves office.

That’s because the spending of millions of dollars by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron and other oil companies to stop the bill resulted in the legislation being stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last year. The oil industry spent more on lobbying in California, $16,360,618, in just the first six months of 2017 than was spent by the industry in all of 2016, $16.0 million, according to a report compiled and written by William Barrett of the Lung Association in California.

WSPA, the most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, and its members have also contributed $170 million to California political campaigns since 2001, according to a new data analysisfrom the Berkeley-based, nonpartisan watchdog MapLight.


On February 8, hundreds of Californians protested the federal government’s plan to offer new leases for offshore oil drilling off the Pacific Coast. The federal agency in charge, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), held its one and only California open hearing for public comment on the proposed plan.

Then on February 28, the Stockholm Institute on the Environment (SEI) released an analysis showing that action to stem California oil production, something that Governor Jerry Brown has strongly resisted, would have critical health and climate benefits.

“The Stockholm Environment Institute makes a strong case that Governor Jerry Brown cannot support full-throttle oil and gas production while claiming that emissions can be cut substantially enough via energy efficiency, carbon trading, and renewable energy to avoid the ‘existential threat’ of climate change,” said Lisa Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog. “We have to start leaving oil in the ground.

“The report finds that, contrary to previous claims, every barrel of California oil left in the ground will also result in a net decrease in oil production globally,” noted Tucker.

Tucker said the report lays out “policy pathways” to limiting state oil production, including ending permitting for new oil production, ending subsidies for oil and gas production, and establishing setbacks to limit urban drilling in vulnerable communities.

For the SEI report, see here.

There is no doubt that the Trump administration’s proposal to open new federal oil drilling leases off the Pacific Coast must be resisted, but so must Governor Brown’s expansion of offshore and onshore drilling in California.