Tue, Apr

Industry Backed California Bill Echoes Pro-Drilling Talking Points


CA OIL PRODUCTION - A bill that has quietly slipped through the legislature purports to serve a sensible goal — increase transparency on emissions data for the transportation of oil imported to California.

Yet Senate Bill 1319, which is supported by the oil and gas industry, is also seen as part of a strategy to increase fossil fuel production in the state while understating the impact of emissions from oil fields in California, say experts. And so far, it doesn’t appear to have prompted any opposition, even from climate-friendly lawmakers, despite its backers’ aim of boosting support for more drilling. 

The bill, authored by Shannon Grove, a state senator from Bakersfield who receives significant income from the oil and gas industry, would direct the California Energy Commission to produce an annual assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and air quality data from the transport of oil imported to California, broken down by country of origin. It would also require the CEC to list which exporter countries have “demonstrated human rights abuses” and “lower environmental standards for the production of oil than California.”

The volume of crude oil produced in-state has steadily declined since the 1980s. Imports from foreign countries, meanwhile, now account for more than half the oil refined within the state; foreign oil represented less than 5% of that total in 1987.

A bill analysis for SB 1319 indicated that the top five exporters of oil to California in April 2021 were Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Brazil and Guyana — though overall imports had decreased 13% compared with 2019, the analysis found. The vast majority is imported via oil tankers.

The bill’s primary supporter, the California Independent Petroleum Association, has long advocated for more in-state oil production. Capital & Main has previously covered the lobbying group’s ties to the firm Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, an expert in ballot campaigns, to promote its cause.
In one filing, submitted in 2020 to the California Air Resources Board regarding the state’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), CIPA CEO Rock Zierman wrote, “It is absurd to think that oil from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela is ‘greener’ than locally produced oil from California.

“California producers are subject to the toughest regulations on the planet and local crude does not travel thousands of miles across the ocean on massive energy-consuming tanker ships to arrive at our ports,” Zierman wrote, adding that data for emissions from importing foreign oil could help in-state oil producers “demonstrate how California’s policies are resulting in cleaner energy production.”

In another filing, Zierman disputed the state’s current methods for evaluating the carbon intensity of imported oil, which he said were less stringent than standards for California fields.

“CIPA requests that a confidence score, or other mechanism be developed, such that when looking at the [carbon intensity] score table in the LCFS it can be readily seen that the values [for in-state versus imported oil] are not equal in underlying data confidence.” Such numbers have been abused “as an advocacy tool against in-state oil production.”

State data indicates several California oil fields have higher carbon intensity scores than most imported oil. Another measure, the Oil-Climate Index, shows that three out of the top 10 greenhouse gas emitting oil fields in the world are located in the San Joaquin Valley or Los Angeles.

According to that index, the Wilmington Field, the South Belridge Field and the Midway Sunset Field are nearly as dirty or dirtier than fields in Nigeria and Canada, both of which export to California.

Companies drilling in greenhouse gas-intensive California fields include E&B Natural Resources, Aera Energy and Crimson Resource Management — all of which are members of CIPA. 

“I’ve read studies that say it’s not true that California oil is cleaner” than imported sources, said Bill Magavern, the policy director at the Coalition for Clean Air. He was previously unaware of the bill.

Zierman didn’t respond to a request for comment before publication.

State Sen. Henry Stern (D-San Fernando Valley), who supports phasing out California oil production, waved off concerns about CIPA’s sponsorship of the bill. As a member of two Senate environmental committees, Stern approved the bill twice in committee and voted for its passage on the Senate floor. It cleared the Senate in June.

“Big Oil’s talking points aside, I have no problem if they want to keep a closer eye on emissions from oil tankers,” Stern said in a statement sent to Capital & Main.

Hollin Kretzmann, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that opposes in-state oil drilling, said legislators “should see right through polluters’ attempts to keep dirty oil going here.

“This bill is an insult to Californians living next to toxic, leaking wells our regulators can’t even keep track of,” Kretzmann wrote in an email. “Rather than argue over which communities should suffer from dirty fossil fuels, we need to rapidly move away from these dangerous projects altogether.”

The bill will have to be approved by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee before it can head to the floor for a full vote. If it does, it would also go back to the Senate for a final vote.

Aaron Miguel Cantú is an investigative reporter currently based in Los Angeles. This article was featured in Capital & Main.)