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Who’s to Blame for Oil Waste in Californians’ Drinking Water?

Natural Resources Defense Council

New information from the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) reveals that decades of poor record-keeping, lax oversight, and – in some cases – outright defiance of the law has allowed oil and gas operators to inject potentially toxic oil and gas wastewater into federally protected drinking water aquifers.

The extent of any contamination remains unknown, but the information exposes the cozy relationship that has existed between regulators and the oil and gas industry and the abject failure of both the State of California and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to safeguard California’s already scarce and drought-threatened drinking water resources.

Every year the oil and gas industry generates hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater, also known as “produced water.” The most common method for disposing of this waste is injecting it underground – an estimated 90 to 99 percent of oil and gas wastewater is managed through this practice. Produced water can be many times saltier than seawater and contain heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and naturally occurring radioactive material. Once an aquifer is contaminated with this fluid it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to clean up.

While most oil and gas wastewater nationwide is injected into geologic formations containing fluids that aren’t suitable for drinking, irrigation, or other purposes, in some cases oil and gas companies want to inject waste into formations containing water that meets the federal definition of an “Underground Source of Drinking Water” (USDW). In order to do so, companies must first demonstrate that this water is not suitable and/or is unlikely to be used as drinking water and obtain what’s known as an “aquifer exemption.”

California has granted more than 1,100 such exemptions, most of which date back to the early 1980s when the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program was first created. But confusion over exactly which aquifers are exempt and where the boundaries of those exemptions are – coupled with a laissez-faire attitude on the part of regulators up until now to resolving those questions – has resulted in at least 2,553 wells being permitted to inject oil and gas waste and other fluids into non-exempt aquifers – aquifers that may contain clean drinking water. Given that California is also experiencing its worst drought in 1,200 years, it’s hard to overstate just how thoroughly the regulatory system has failed.

DOGGR also released a plan to begin to address this huge mess, including:

  • Continuing to review wells potentially injecting into non-exempt aquifers to determine the risks to groundwater;
  • Creating processes to evaluate aquifer status and proposals for new aquifer exemptions;
  • Improving communication with the public about the aquifer exemption process and the UIC program;
  • Ensuring that existing or new injection into non-exempt aquifers is either phased out or covered by an aquifer exemption;
  • Reviewing and revising, as necessary, California’s UIC regulations, and;
  • Creating a searchable database of Class II wells and aquifer exemptions.

We support these crucial steps and look forward to working with DOGGR and other relevant agencies to see that these goals are achieved. However, DOGGR’s plan will allow injection into potentially non-exempt aquifers to continue for up to two more years, while the aquifers are being evaluated. This is not sufficiently protective of California’s groundwater supplies, and as such, we’re calling on California’s elected officials, regulators, and the EPA to take action to:

  • Immediately halt any further illegal injection into protected drinking water until the status of those aquifers is confirmed and the presence and extent of any contamination is determined;
  • Undertake a full review the aquifer exemption program, including an evaluation of whether such a program should continue to exist at all in our increasingly water-constrained world.

Continuing injection into potentially non-exempt aquifers for two more years could allow any contamination to spread.

DOGGR’s plans indicate that they will continue to process aquifer exemptions under the existing criteria, which were created more than 30 years ago. During that time, drought and scarcity have driven people to use water of lower quality and the technology available to treat groundwater has evolved significantly, meaning that water not previously considered usable may now be a critical resource. Continuing to grant aquifer exemptions under these outdated criteria is not acceptable.

We are hopeful that the era of industry being able to write its own rules is coming to an end with new leadership at DOGGR. We are encouraged by recent stakeholder meetings with leaders in the administration during which they’ve stated their priorities to improve transparency and record keeping at the department. The state can put these priorities into action by placing public health and protection of our precious water resources ahead of industry profit.


This article was originally published at Switchboard, the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Unintended Side Effects of Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse

A workplace accident in 2001 changed my life forever. While working as a part-time grocery checker and cashier, I suffered an incident that led to the tendons being torn from the bones of my right foot. After an initial misdiagnosis, I ultimately discovered that I had a rare central nervous system disorder that subsequently altered my skin, blood vessels, muscles, bones, and caused atrophy and other issues to my body. Since my accident, pain has become an unbearable, unmanageable, and near-constant presence in my life.

Through painful trial and error, my physicians and I have finally found the appropriate combination of medications to provide some relief from my debilitating symptoms. The prescription medications that I take allow me to do things that most people take for granted. Now, I celebrate small triumphs such as cooking a meal, occasionally attending a function, and watching my grandson grow.

Some of the medications that helped give me my life back were prescription opioids, which have recently come under increased scrutiny due to heavy abuse by some.

Those who abuse prescription opioids often change the original pill form by chewing, grinding, melting or snorting the drug to get a faster high. In an effort to help address the problem of abuse, some regulators have put in place restrictions on access to these medications. Unfortunately, people who use prescription medications as intended can become unfortunate casualties of efforts to regulate opioid abuse, as we end up getting lumped in with those who misuse treatments. It is difficult to obtain refills without scheduling multiple doctor visits, and, in some cases, doctors are not allowed to call in prescriptions.

Fortunately, there are new weapons available to help combat prescription opioid abuse which do not sacrifice the many patients who legitimately use the medications to fight pain. New “abuse deterrent formulations” (ADF) for opioids have properties that make it difficult or undesirable for someone to tamper with them. These medications are made with physical and chemical barriers, such as a special kind of coating or hardness to the pill itself, that won’t allow them to be chewed, crushed, cut, grated, ground up, or melted with water or alcohol. ADF formulations can even eliminate the “drug” effect if the product’s form is altered.

California policymakers must enact policies to help develop a strong, lasting solution to the health crisis of prescription opioid abuse. There are several major actions that will help reduce opioid abuse while making sure there is continued access to necessary care for the millions of pain patients who need the medications and use them responsibly.

First, advocates must push for legislation that prevents substitution of ADF products for non-ADF products at a patient’s pharmacy, unless that switch is approved by the prescribing health professional. Legislative attempts to curb abuse should advance patient safety while placing a high priority ADF treatment options. Additionally, non-opioid therapies should be offered as a first line of treatment for pain while reducing the opportunity for opioid abuse. Pharmaceutical companies should be encouraged to create abuse-deterrent options for treating pain patients. Finally, states should define what constitutes an “abuse-deterrent” medication based on FDA guidance.

We must find a balance that separates patients who truly need opioid medication to live productive lives and those who are abusing them. Responsible patients should not be punished in an attempt to crack down on prescription drugs and opioid abuse. Legislators, health care professionals and pharmaceutical companies must work together to stop opioid abuse while keeping the needs of chronic pain patients front-of-mind.


Twinkle VanFleet is a Sacramento resident and executive board member and advocacy director for the Power of Pain Foundation.

The Year in Sustainable Food: Much Progress, and More Work to Be Done

Natural Resources Defense Council

The movement for a clean, sustainable food supply built up quite a head of steam in 2014. Many of this year’s happenings had me and my colleagues at NRDC cheering; some had us shaking our heads—and rolling up our sleeves. Here’s our look back at the year in food.

1. Nation’s Largest School Districts to Serve Antibiotic-Free Chicken

The Urban School Food Alliance, a group that represents six of the nation’s largest public school districts, announced in December that it would seek antibiotic-free chicken from its suppliers. The decision affects more than the food of the 2.9 million school children these districts serve—it’s a move that will encourage a shift toward more sustainable practices in the poultry industry.

Most animals raised for meat in this country are routinely given antibiotics, even when they’re not sick, a practice that puts the effectiveness of these essential medicines at risk. By increasing the demand for better chicken, the alliance’s new standards, which NRDC helped design, will improve school lunches and encourage a shift away from the abuse of antibiotics in the poultry industry.

Perdue Farms also announced this year that it has transitioned away from non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics that are important for human medicine, setting a bar for other major poultry companies (we hope Perdue will have a third party verify that claim).

2. EPA Approves Toxic Herbicide for GMO Crops

p>Despite ample evidence of risks to human health and monarch butterfly populations, the EPA approved the herbicide Enlist Duo for use on a new strain of genetically modified corn and soy. The move effectively condones the escalation of a chemical arms race between pesticide-intensive growers and weeds. When weeds start to develop a resistance to one chemical, the industry’s solution is to develop a new, more potent herbicide, and a new strain of GMO crops that can withstand it —and federal agencies rush to approve the new products without adequate review of the risks.

NRDC is suing the EPA over its approval of Enlist Duo. Meanwhile, the GMO battle continued on other fronts: a GMO-labeling measure nearly missed in Oregon, and Maui banned the cultivation of GMO crops on the island, only to have the law blocked by a federal judge.

3. Hormone-Altering Pizza Box Chemicals and Other Dirty Food Secrets Exposed

This fall, an NRDC-led coalition, armed with the latest scientific research, petitioned the FDA to get rid of the toxic chemicals perchlorate and PFCs in food packaging. PFCs, a family of chemicals cleared for use to keep grease out of pizza boxes and sandwich wrappers, have been linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Perchlorate has been linked to similar health risks and is approved for use in sealing gaskets for food containers and dry food packaging.

NRDC also exposed a gaping loophole in food safety law this year that allows hundreds, if not a thousand or more, chemical food additives to be used in processed and packaged foods without public knowledge or any safety review by the FDA. After publishing a report on the impacts of the loophole, NRDC led a formal protest against the FDA demanding more transparency and less industry influence over chemical additives in food.4. Walmart Joins Fair Food Program, Offers Tomato Pickers an Extra Penny a Pound

Chalk up another victory to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the group of tomato pickers who took on Florida’s tomato industry. In January, Walmart signed on to the CIW’s Fair Food Program, agreeing to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes, a fee which is passed on directly to workers in the fields. Walmart, the largest private food buyer in the country, joined McDonald’s, Sodexo and others in signing the agreement, which also includes a code of conduct that enforces zero tolerance for slavery or sexual assault in the fields. In its first three years, the program has earned $11 million and a measure of dignity for farm workers. NRDC recognized the CIW with a Growing Green Award in 2012 and their great work continues.

5. Whole Foods Introduces Sustainability Ratings for Produce

Whole Foods announced this year that it will launch a sustainability rating system for its fresh produce, a big step forward in creating incentives for farming practices that are better for our health and the natural environment. Growers can earn higher scores by adopting techniques that will reduce chemical inputs, nurture soil health, and protect pollinators, among other goals. Whole Foods’ system was influenced in part by the Sustainability Index for Specialty Crops, a benchmarking system recently developed by an NRDC co-founded collaboration with fruit and vegetable growers to help reduce reliance on chemicals, water and energy.

6. Documentary Films Shine Spotlight on Impacts of Broken Food System

A slate of documentaries released this year garnered attention for some of the systemic problems inherent in our food system. Among the films are Fed Up, co-produced by NRDC trustee Laurie David and news anchor Katie Couric, a hard-hitting exploration of childhood obesity and its links to our industrialized food system. In Just Eat It, the filmmakers highlight the irony of food waste, as they attempt to be “freegans” in a country that wastes nearly half its food, while 1 out of 6 people are food insecure. My colleague Dana Gunders, NRDC’s food waste expert, appears in this one. Another documentary, Food Chains, highlights the stories of farm laborers fighting for a living wage.

7. Food Activists Join People’s Climate March

With NRDC’s help, food justice and climate activists marched side by side in the massive People’s Climate March in New York City this fall, demonstrating a growing solidarity between the two movements. Common ground is ample: food has to be climate-friendly in order to be sustainable, and for that food to have real impact, it must be accessible to all. In the words of the march organizers: To change everything, we need everyone.

8. Food Fights: A Mixed Bag on Nutrition

Industry has been fending off a number of efforts to improve nutrition this year, with varying degrees of success. The FDA, over strenuous objections from some in industry, announced that it would require chain restaurants, movie theaters and pizza parlors to post calorie counts on their menus. Voters in Berkeley, California passed the nation’s first ever tax on soda, while a similar measure in San Francisco won a clear majority, but failed to garner the required two-thirds vote (after the soda industry spent a reported $10 million to oppose it) . And Congress’s big year-end spending bill rolled back some of the USDA’s groundbreaking new guidelines for school food, allowing schools to continue serving salty food and fewer whole grains to children, many of whom rely on school food for nearly half their diet.

From production to our plates, our industrialized food system has serious flaws: a reliance on chemicals in farming and food processing that put our health, climate, and natural environment at risk; a livestock industry that abuses antibiotics; a lack of access to fresh food for low-income communities; tremendous amounts of waste; and unfair labor practices. The fight to change these entrenched problems will not be won in a single year, but 2014 demonstrated that momentum is building—and that 2015 will be a year to watch in the move toward a cleaner, more sustainable food supply.


This article was originally published at Switchboard, the blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Peter Lehner is Executive Director of the NRDC.

Can We Have Bank and Regulator Hearings in California Too?

California Reinvestment Coalition and Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley

This morning, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs will hold a hearing: Improving Financial Institution Supervision: Examining and Addressing Regulatory Capture to focus on recent, embarrassing revelations (stories here , here, here and here) about the New York Federal Reserve. Senators are concerned that this important bank regulator is not actually fulfilling its supervisory role, and instead has become deferential to the mega-banks it supervises, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and others.

While this hearing is taking place in Washington, DC, these issues also impact consumers and communities here in California. For example, consider the proposed merger of OneWest Bank, headquartered in Pasadena, with CIT Group, headquartered in New Jersey. If approved by bank regulators, this would be the first time a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI) was created through a merger. The SIFI designation is given to banks that are so large that their collapse could trigger problems throughout the entire financial system. In addition to the risks created by adding another Too Big To Fail bank, ongoing foreclosures, including foreclosures on seniors and their surviving spouses with reverse mortgages by the Bank’s Financial Freedom subsidiary are still harming California communities.

Currently over 50 California organizations, including the California Reinvestment Coalition, are opposing this merger and calling on the Federal Reserve to hold hearings in Los Angeles about the merger. While we appreciate the oversight being conducted in Washington DC, we also want bank regulators to hold their own hearings here in California. Before regulators make any decisions about this merger, we believe California communities should have a public forum to discuss the potential impacts and risks. Community input is especially important given the damage already caused by IndyMac’s predatory loans and the thousands of foreclosures subsequently conducted by OneWest in California.

We are still waiting to hear whether or not the Federal Reserve will hold public hearings on this merger, until then, we have four suggested topics for today’s hearing that we think Senators should ask New York Federal Reserve Bank President William C. Dudley, who is testifying at the hearing:

  1. In assessing the merger of CIT Group and OneWest Bank, what consideration has the Federal Reserve given to the troubled histories of the two banks and their negative impacts on communities, government agencies, and taxpayers? IndyMac’s failure cost the FDIC’s Insurance Fund over $10 billion. Meanwhile, CIT Group used bankruptcy to eliminate its obligation to repay $2.3 billion in TARP funds it received from the US Treasury Department, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Since then, OneWest and Financial Freedom have foreclosed on thousands of homeowners, seniors, and their heirs.
  2. Since this is the first time a merger will result in the creation of a Systemically Important Financial Institution, if the Federal Reserve approves this merger, would the approval be contingent on the new bank developing safeguards to protect communities in case it were to fail?
  3. Does the Federal Reserve have any concerns about the fact that this merger depends on the FDIC continuing to subsidize this new, Too Big To Fail bank via the Shared Loss Agreement it extended to OneWest’s billionaire owners in 2009? This agreement appears to only enrich billionaire investors and millionaire bank officers, while serving no public interest. Both OneWest and the FDIC have declined to publicly state how much money has been paid out under the agreement, how much more could still be paid out, and on what basis the FDIC will decide whether to transfer the agreement to CIT Group. Has the FDIC shared this information with the Federal Reserve?
  4. Has the Federal Reserve made any conclusions about the Public Benefit or lack thereof with this proposed merger? CRC’s analysis of this merger finds very little, if any public benefit to this merger. The bank’s Community Reinvestment Plan is near the bottom of the pack as compared to its peers and as compared to banks that are smaller in size. The Bank appears to cater to the wealthy, and with only two OneWest branches located in low-income census tracts, the bank has suggested that low income consumers should use online banking instead. Does the Federal Reserve share OneWest’s view that poorer Californians don’t need to have banks in their neighborhood?
  5. Approximately half of the proposed bank’s deposits will come from internet based deposits from customers who live throughout the US. However, the bank proposes to only reinvest those deposits back into Salt Lake City. Does the Federal Reserve agree that banks don’t need to reinvest dollars back into communities from which the deposits originate?

If you are a California consumer and you’re worried about bank regulators approving the creation of another Too Big To Fail bank, please consider emailing the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. If you’ve had experiences with IndyMac Bank, OneWest Bank, Freedom Financial, or CIT Group, that is also worth noting. And, if you support CRC’s suggestions that regulators hold hearings, you should also note that. Contact info (Please email both regulators): comments.applications@ny.frb.org and WE.Licensing@occ.treas.gov


Kevin Stein is the Associate Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. The California Reinvestment Coalition advocates for the right of low-income communities and communities of color to have fair and equal access to banking and other financial services. CRC has a membership of more than 300 nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the State. Sharon Kinlaw is the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley.

Massive Dumping of Wastewater Into Aquifers Shows Big Oil’s Power in California

As the oil industry spent record amounts on lobbying in Sacramento and made record profits, documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity reveal that almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater were illegally dumped into Central California aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation water for farms.

The Center said the wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking (hydraulic fracturing) fluids and other pollutants.

The documents also reveal that Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates, contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater, in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.

The illegal dumping took place in a state where Big Oil is the most powerful corporate lobby and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the most powerful corporate lobbying organization, alarming facts that the majority of the public and even many environmental activists are not aware of.

An analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry collectively spent over $63 million lobbying California policymakers between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), led by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California, topped the oil industry lobby spending with $26,969,861.

The enormous influence that the oil lobby exerts over legislators, agency leaders, the Governor’s Office and state and federal regulatory officials is the reason why Big Oil has been able to contaminate groundwater aquifers, rivers and ocean waters in California for decades with impunity. The contamination of aquifers becomes even more alarming when one considers that California is now reeling from a record drought where people, farms, fish and wildlife are suffering from extremely low conditions in reservoirs, rivers and streams.

Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney, criticized state regulators for failing to do their job of protecting precious water supplies from oil industry pollution – and urged Governor Jerry Brown to take action to halt the environmentally destructive practice of fracking in California.

“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Kretzmann. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”

Kretzmann said the State Water Resources Control Board “confirmed beyond doubt” that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.

“Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison,” according to a statement from the Center. “Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness.”

“Arsenic and thallium are extremely dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”

The Center obtained a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board to the federal Environmental Protection Agency stating that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board has confirmed that injection wells have been dumping oil industry waste into aquifers that are legally protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The State Water Board also concedes that another 19 wells may also have contaminated protected aquifers, and dozens more have been injecting waste into aquifers of unknown quality.

“The Central Valley Water Board tested eight water-supply wells out of more than 100 in the vicinity of these injection wells,” according to the Center. “Arsenic, nitrate and thallium exceeded the maximum contaminant level in half the water samples.”

The Vote No on Prop. 1 (Water Bond) Campaign responded to the Center’s release of the documents by pointing out the irony of the fact that the same Legislature that nearly unanimously voted to put the water bond on the November ballot also rejected a fracking moratorium in California

“Prop 1 folks tout how it will provide funding to clean up groundwater in the [San Joaquin] Valley,” according to a statement from the campaign. “This is something we want to see too. But if fracking is unregulated and fracking wells are already leaking, shouldn’t we work on the fracking moratorium first? Or at least simultaneously. And the legislators who passed Prop 1 voted against the fracking moratorium.”

It is no surprise that the State Senators who voted no on the fracking moratorium bill received 14 times more money in campaign contributions from the oil industry than those who voted no on the measure.

Restore the Delta responded to the report also: “At RTD, we have always known that water needs to be shared from the Delta- we argue that it must be at levels that are sustainable for the estuary. When we see items like this, however, it’s hard to maintain that reasonable stance. We predicted a year ago that [San Joaquin] Valley fracking sites would contaminate groundwater, making the region more dependent on water exports.”

Long term threat posed by waste water disposal may be even worse

The Center said that while the current extent of contamination is cause for “grave concern,” the long-term threat posed by the unlawful wastewater disposal may be even more devastating.

“Benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals used in fracking fluid are routinely found in flowback water coming out of oil wells in California, often at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe, and this flowback fluid is sent to wastewater disposal wells. Underground migration of chemicals like benzene can take years,” the Center stated.

The state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) shut down 11 Kern County oil field injection wells and began scrutinizing almost 100 others that were potentially contaminating protected groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate legal authority over underground injection, ordered state officials to provide an assessment of the water-contamination risk within 60 days, and the letter from the state Water Board confirms that illegal contamination has occurred at multiple sites.

California’s oil and gas fields produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year, much of which is injected underground. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injection wells, of which 1,552 are currently active, according to the Center.

Wastewater injection wells are located throughout the state, from the Chico area in Northern California to Los Angeles in Southern California and even include offshore wells near Santa Barbara. Kern County in the Southern San Joaquin Valley is home to the largest number of oil wells in California.

The fracking wastewater poses a huge threat not only to human health, but to fish, including endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead and wildlife as the water makes its way to rivers and streams. The last thing that imperiled salmon and steelhead populations need, as they face a combination of drought and poor management of the state’s reservoirs and rivers by the state and federal agencies, is the threat of increased pollution of their habitat by benzene, toluene and other harmful fracking chemicals,

A recent study by the US Drought Monitor reported that 58 percent of California is experiencing “exceptional drought,” the most serious category on the agency’s five-level scale. A fracking job can require as much as 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water per day.

Big Oil power and money dominates California politics

As an investigative journalist who has written many articles documenting oil industry power and money in California politics, I find it extremely important to review recent financial data on the oil industry in California. This data reveals how the regulated have captured the regulators in California, just like Wall Street big banks captured the regulatory apparatus.

While there are many powerful industries based in California, ranging from the computer and high tech industry to corporate agribusiness, no industry has more influence over the state’s environmental policies than Big Oil. Unfortunately, most of the public and even many environmental activists have no idea how much influence the oil industry has on the Governor, the Legislature and state panels and environmental processes in the state.

An ongoing analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry collectively spent over $63 million lobbying California policymakers between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014. The Western States Petroleum Association led the oil industry lobby spending with $26,969,861.

“The oil industry is spending over $1 million per month lobbying Sacramento, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) as the second overall leading spender so far in 2014 with almost $3 million spent in the past six months,” according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. “Chevron, with $1.3 million spent so far in 2014, is also among the top five. If money speaks, Big Oil has the loudest voice in politics.”

WSPA was California’s second overall leading lobbyist spender, with $1.5 million spent in the second quarter of 2014. This is the second largest quarter going back to January 2009. In 2014, WSPA is on pace to exceed the previous record annual total set in 2012. WSPA has paid over $2 million to KP Public Affairs, the state’s highest paid lobbying firm, during the current (2013-14) legislative session, according to the group. WSPA spent $4,670,010 on lobbying in 2013 and $5,698,917 in 2012.

Chevron is the fifth overall spender in California through the second quarter of 2014, having spent $784,757 that quarter, an increase of nearly $300,000 over the prior quarter.

Yet these millions of dollars are just chump change to Big Oil, since the five big oil companies made over $93 billion in profits in 2013. This year, Big Oil’s profits are estimated to be over $72 billion to date, based on information from The Center for American Progress.

A report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil has spent $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns – nearly $10 million per year and more than any other corporate lobby – over the past fifteen years.

But Big Oil exerts its influence not just by making campaign contributions, but also by lobbying legislators at the State Capitol. The oil industry spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California from 1999 through 2013. This was an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million. In 2013-2014 alone, the top lobbyist employer, Western States Petroleum Association, spent $4.7 million.

Big Oil’s enormous influence over the California Legislature was exposed when Governor Jerry Brown in September 2013 signed Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, after oil industry lobbyists gutted the already weak bill to “regulate” fracking in California. The bill “undermines existing environmental law and leaves Californians unprotected from fracking and other dangerous and extreme fossil fuel extraction techniques,” stated Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of over 100 organizations now calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Oil industry officials serve on regulatory and advisory panels

The oil industry also exerts its muscle by serving on and dominating state and federal regulatory and advisory panels. For example, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California. She also served on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast.

It is no surprise that the so-called “marine protected areas” created under the helm of Reheis-Boyd and other corporate operatives failed to protect the ocean from fracking offshore oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

Ironically, while WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to “protect” the ocean, the same oil industry that the “marine guardian” represents was conducting environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations off the Southern California coast.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and truthout.org reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 that Reheis-Boyd served as a “marine guardian.”

To make matters worse, Reheis-Boyd also serves on a federal government marine protected areas panel. The National Marine Protected Areas Center website lists Reheis-Boyd as a member of a 20 member MPA (Marine Protected Areas) Advisory Committee.

In addition to the oil industry spending exerting its enormous power through campaign contributions, lobbying legislators and serving on state and federal regulatory panels, the oil industry also has set up “Astroturf” groups, including the California Drivers Alliance and Fueling California, to fight against environmental regulations protecting our air, water, land, fish, wildlife and human health.

“The set up is basically this: some Californian (who is supposed to be your proxy) regurgitates Big Oil talking points that don’t resemble reality, equating protecting Big Oil’s profits with protecting the people,” according to Stop Fooling California.

Most recently, the Monterey Herald reported that San Benito United for Energy Independence, the oil and gas industry-funded group behind a slate of ads airing throughout the Central Coast on TV and radio, raised more than $1.7 million to fight Measure J, an initiative to ban fracking in San Benito Count that goes before the voters on November 4. “While the group touts its local ties, none of the money funding Measure J’s opposition comes from San Benito County,” said reporter Jason Hoppin.

“San Benito United is entirely funded by an industry-backed group called Californians for Energy Independence. Oil companies have been pumping millions into that group in the last few months, including $2.5 million from San Ramon-based Chevron, $2.1 million from San Ardo-based Aera Energy and $2 million from Houston-based Occidental Petroleum,” said Hoppin.

Politicians like Governor Jerry Brown like to portray California as a “green” leader, but the reality is that the oil industry, along with agribusiness and other corporate lobbies, exerts enormous influence over the state’s environmental policies, making the claims that California is a “green” state highly dubious.


This article was originally published at Indybay.