California lawmakers kill plans to ban some offshore drilling

In the face of fierce opposition from unions and California’s powerful oil industry, a law to close the operations of three oil rigs off the coast of Orange County on Thursday failed to win the right to pass. in a state Senate committee, seven months after a major oil spill hit the beaches and marshes around Huntington Sea.

Senate Bill 953 would allow the State Lands Commission to terminate offshore oil leases by the end of 2024 if the agency is unable to negotiate voluntary purchases with the oil companies that operate the rigs. oil. The act focuses only on three oil leases in state waters adjacent to Orange County, not 23 oil rigs in federal waters along the rest of the California coast.

The measure was introduced by State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) in the wake of an October oil spill at Huntington Beach that dumped an estimated 25,000 gallons into the ocean. Investigators suspect the cause was a cargo ship anchor that stuck a 17-mile pipeline extending from an oil rig operating in interstate waters to the Port of Long Beach.

Min calls offshore oil production a serious threat to California’s $44 billion-a-year coastal economy, as the October oil spill demonstrated. Not only were beaches closed, affecting local restaurants and other businesses, but the oil spill forced the cancellation of the last day of a popular air show.

Min’s bill was dropped Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, a gatekeeper panel that screens hundreds of bills and decides whether legislation with financial costs to the state moves to the Senate. complete or not. Min’s bill failed to get a vote, which, in effect, killed the measure a day before the deadline for the bills to proceed.

Min later said he was “disappointed” with the results but wouldn’t give up.

“I will continue to explore all the mechanisms and avenues to try to remove the oil rigs off the coast of California,” Min said in a statement. “The aging infrastructure of these offshore rigs means they are time-bombing. Another oil spill – and all the associated environmental and economic damage – is inevitable unless we act now.”

Min knows the bill faces serious dangers, even in the Democratic-dominated Legislature and at a time when California as the national leader in driving the transition to a low-cost economy. economy based on renewable energy and reduce dependence on oil and gas.

Some Senate Democrats have previously expressed concern about the potential financial liability the state faces if oil leases are terminated, a price that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Termination of such leases is also likely to be considered in court as an “acceptance” action by the state, since the oil leases in question are legal and the matter could become a matter of law. costly battle in court.

State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) voted for the bill when it came before the Senate Water and Resources Committee in April but at the time warned that she could rescind the bill. its support if those issues are not resolved. She also did not want to delegate the task to the State Land Commission, in her experience that “big bureaucracy did not solve our problem”.

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

“Closing oil and gas leases is complex but necessary,” said Victoria Rome, director of government affairs for California at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The current budget surplus gives us the opportunity to tackle this problem even while holding the polluters accountable. The NRDC will continue to work to protect our coastlines and marine ecosystems.”

Congressman Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from the South Bay, blamed politically powerful worker unions as one of the biggest obstacles to passing health and safety restrictions. absolutely essential to California’s billion-dollar oil industry. He said unions used their influence with Democratic lawmakers in 2020 to knock out his bill that would have required a setback distance between oil and gas wells and residential areas – and groups Labor did the same years ago with his bill to require the region’s major oil refineries to end their dangerous use of hydrofluoric acid.

“Labour is probably the biggest supporter of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party candidates,” Muratsuchi said in an interview at the end of April. “The public needs to know… Why can’t a deep blue state like California pass more policies, more bills, to phase out fossil fuels?”

Opponents of SB 953 argue that terminating the oil lease would not only burden California taxpayers but also reduce California’s local oil supply at a time when gasoline prices are at record highs. . Reducing local oil production will also require the state to import more oil by tankers and trains, which also poses environmental risks.

“SB 953 is celebrated because it doesn’t work – it would cost the state billions of dollars for a symbolic victory,” said Andrew Meredith, president of the State Building and Construction Trade Council. California, a well-known labor organization representing oil workers. “The California Senate is actually more concerned with actually improving the plight of workers and our environment than running after the headlines.”

Meredith says that Muratsuchi’s criticism is misguided.

“I can assure Mr. Muratsuchi that the stringent environmental and worker protection regulations in California far exceed those in Saudi Arabia, the Amazon rainforest and even Russia – where he wants California to be. buy the oil and gas that California depends on to power 30 he said.

Min’s measure would require the State Lands Commission to perform an amortization study of three oil and gas leases in state waters. The study will include an estimate of the expected revenue from the leases and the expected costs oil companies face when decommissioning oil rigs – a requirement in the contracts. existing leases – including dismantling all structures, plugging wells and restoring the ocean floor.

There are 11 operating oil and gas leases in state waters along the California coast, all of which were granted drilling rights between 1938 and 1968. During a legislative hearing earlier this year on the County oil spill These leases have no end date and will continue as long as oil and gas companies continue to produce as “economical,” said Jennifer Lucchesi, executive director of the State Lands Commission. California lawmakers kill plans to ban some offshore drilling

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