Oil Lobby Leads California Spending As Ocean Fracking Proceeds
Written By: Dan Bacher, August 26, 2013
Some may consider California to be a "green" state and the "environmental leader" of the nation, but that delusion is quickly dispelled once one actually looks at who spends the most on lobbying in California - the oil industry.
The Western States Petroleum Association spent the most on lobbying in Sacramento in the first six months of 2013 of any interest group, according to quarterly documents released by the California Secretary of State.
The association spent $1,023,069.78 in the first quarter and $1,285,720.17 in the second quarter, a total of $2,308,789.95, to lobby legislators and other state officials.
Because of the enormous influence exerted by the group and the oil companies in the Capitol, all but one bill to regulate or ban fracking was defeated in the Legislature this year. The only bill that passed through the Legislature was the weak bill to "regulate" fracking sponsored by State Senator Fran Pavley.
The association's members are a "who's who" of big oil companies, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillip, ExxonMobil, Noble Energy Company, Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, Shell Oil Products US, Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, U.S. Oil & Refining Company, Venoco, Inc. and many others.
The latest report on spending on lobbying emerged as the Associated Press revealed that companies prospecting for oil off California's coast have used the controversial practice of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) on at least a dozen occasions to force open cracks beneath the seabed.
Fracking employs huge volumes of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas – and threatens ground water supplies and rivers in the Central Valley and coastal areas. The controversial technique is already being used in hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of California oil and gas wells.
Oil companies are aggressively trying to frack the Monterey Shale, a large geological formation running beneath these federal leases believed to harbor about 15 billion barrels of oil.
Now regulators are investigating whether the environmentally destructive practice, one that poses an enormous threat to rockfish, salmon and many other fish species in the state's marine waters, should require a separate permit and be subject to stricter environmental review. (http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_23789784/fracking-off-california-coast-draws-call-greater-regulation)
"Hundreds of pages of federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press and advocacy groups through the Freedom of Information Act show regulators have permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and have recently approved a new project," wrote AP reporters Jason Dearen and Alicia Chang.
"Companies are doing the offshore fracking -- which involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of salt water, sand and chemicals into undersea shale and sand formations -- to stimulate old existing wells into new oil production," they said.
Federal regulators have to date exempted the chemical fluids used in offshore fracking from the nation's clean water laws, allowing companies to release fracking fluid into the sea without filing a separate environmental impact report looking at the possible effects.
While federal regulators allowed oil companies to frack offshore, state officials have also left the door open for fracking.
Inexplicably missing from mainstream media reports on this issue is any mention of one of the biggest environmental scandals of the past decade - the alarming fact that Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force that created the alleged "marine protected areas" that went into effect in Southern California in January 2012. She also served on the task forces to create "marine reserves" on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.
Grassroots environmentalists, Tribal leaders and fishermen and blasted the leadership role of the oil industry lobbyist in creating these "marine protected areas," but state officials and corporate "environmental" NGO representatives embraced her as a "marine guardian." MLPA Initiative advocates refused to acknowledge the overt conflict of interest that a big oil lobbyist, who supports fracking and offshore oil drilling, had in a process allegedly designed to "protect" the ocean.
You see, the "marine protected areas" created under Reheis-Boyd's leadership weren't true "marine protected areas" as the language of the Marine Life Protection Act called for. Reheis-Boyd, a marina corporation executive, a coastal real estate developer and other political hacks on the task forces oversaw the creation of "marine protected areas" that effectively allow fracking to continue and expand.
These "marine protected areas" fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling and spills, pollution, wind and wave energy projects, military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.
Reheis-Boyd apparently used her role as a state marine "protection" official to increase her network of influence in California politics to the point where the WSPA has become the most powerful corporate lobby in California.
Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California (http://www.stopfoolingca.org). The WSPA alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.
Not only do the association and oil companies buy access to lawmakers, but also they exert enormous control over Governor Jerry Brown, who is currently fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The water destined for the tunnels will go to corporate agribusiness and oil companies seeking to expand fracking operations.
Nobody knows exactly how much water is used specifically for fracking in California now, since reporting by the oil companies is voluntary. One thing is for certain - oil companies use big quantities of water in their current oil drilling operations in Kern County. Much of this water this comes through the State Water Project's California Aqueduct and the Central Valley Water Project's Delta-Mendota Canal, the canals that will export the water diverted through the tunnels.
"In the time since steamflooding was pioneered here in the fields of Kern County in the 1960s, oil companies statewide have pumped roughly 2.8 trillion gallons of fresh water—or, in the parlance of agriculture, nearly 9 million acre-feet—underground in pursuit of the region's tarry oil," according to Jeremy Miller's 2011 investigative piece, "The Colonization of Kern County," in Orion Magazine (http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6047/).
Governor Brown has pursued an increasingly cozy relationship with oil companies, leading many to believe that he is going to promote increased fracking, in addition to pushing for the construction of the peripheral tunnels that will provide more water for fracking.
"A state senator has told me that Brown has cut a deal with the oil companies - he'll push fracking in exchange for campaign contributions to his 2012 Proposition 30 and his 2014 reelected," said RL Miller in her recent article on Daily Kos.
She cited as evidence the $27,200, the maximum allowable under California law that Occidental Petroleum Corporation contributed to Brown's 2014 campaign.
Miller also noted the roughly $1 million that oil companies contributed to Brown's Proposition 30 campaign. These contributions include $500,000 from Occidental Petroleum, $125,000 from Aera Energy (Exxon-related,) $35,000 from Berry Petroleum in Denver, $35,000 from Vaquero Energy and $25,000 from Venoco.
On August 15, the California Coastal Commission, under intense pressure from legislators and environmental activists, pledged at its meeting in Santa Cruz to investigate reports of fracking in ocean waters.
I'm glad that the Commission is calling for an investigation of offshore fracking now - and I support that investigation. However, if Commission wants to really show that they take their obligation to protect the coast seriously, they should include in their fracking investigation a probe of Reheis-Boyd’s role in creating so-called “marine reserves” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution and all other human impacts on our coastal waters than sustainable fishing and gathering.Back To Articles