State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) just introduced a new bill to ban offshore drilling along California’s coast, but the legislation has one major drawback – it would only affect around 10% of oil rigs off the state’s coast.
While Min publicly called for an end to offshore drilling during the cleanup for the Huntington Beach oil spill that spewed 25,000 gallons of oil off the coast of Southern California, the bill is the first piece of state legislation introduced on the issue.
“Where there is drilling, there is going to be spilling,” Min said in a statement emailed to reporters. “We know that the aging infrastructure of these offshore oil rigs means that we will see more and more of these disastrous oil spills, unless we take action now.”
Min’s bill would require all oil platforms off the coast of California to cease production by the end of next year, giving operators just over a year to close up shop.
The bill also requires operators to “properly plug, abandon, and decommission wells, pipelines, and attendant production facilities,” before they pull out entirely as required by their current leases.
According to Min’s news release, there are only three oil rigs currently operating under the state’s purview, with eleven leases issued.
When asked about the limits of his bill to regulate federal rigs, Min said he hoped it would serve as a formula for federal legislators to pick up and continue at the capitol.
“While the state of California is limited in its ability to end offshore drilling in federal waters, I am hopeful that if passed, SB 953 will provide a clear precedent for our federal counterparts to follow in,” Min said in an email to Voice of OC.
Meanwhile, there are 21 rigs operating in federal waters, which Min’s bill wouldn’t affect.
Currently, the state of California controls everything within three miles of its coast, including oil drilling operations. But everything beyond that falls under the federal government’s jurisdiction.
According to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the chief agency tasked with managing offshore drilling rigs, there are 21 oil rigs currently operating beyond that three-mile limit, including the platforms responsible for the Huntington Beach spill.
While it’s already almost impossible to set up new oil rigs offshore in federal waters because the state stopped issuing permits to build the necessary infrastructure in 1969, those existing oil rigs have continued to extend their lifetimes through federal permits for new equipment.
Congressman Mike Levin (D-San Clemente), who represents the coastline of San Clemente and parts of South Orange County, incorporated a provision in the federal Build Back Better legislation that would’ve required an end to offshore drilling in federal waters.
However, while that legislation was approved by the house of representatives, it was not approved by the senate.
In a phone call with Voice of OC, Levin said he had reached out to President Joe Biden and asked for support to reintroduce the ban on offshore drilling, along with other portions of the climate regulations in Build Back Better.
“If we ended all offshore production in California it would barely register on the nation’s annual production,” Levin said. “The risks of oil production to our economy clearly outweigh the benefits to our economy.”
Min and Levin aren’t the only members of the Orange County delegation pushing for an end to offshore drilling.
Oil spills have been a hot political topic in Orange County ever since last year’s Huntington Beach spill, spurring a series of local, state and federal investigations, class action lawsuits and promises from elected officials that it would never happen again.
State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), whose district covers much of the coast impacted by the spill, was appointed last year to head a special committee on the Orange County Oil Spill, conducting multiple hearings discussing how to end offshore drilling for good.
Last month, that committee hosted a panel made up of environmentalists, union representatives and state officials discussing what an end to the drilling could look like. To view the committee’s website, click here.
It’s an issue that looks like it has some local bipartisan support.
During the oil spill clean up efforts last year, Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen, (R-Huntington Beach) told Voice of OC that she’s in favor of banning offshore drilling, pointing out on Twitter at the time of the spill it was more than just a partisan issue.
Federal prosecutors are also pursuing Amplify Energy, the company which managed the pipeline responsible for the Huntington Beach spill, in court, unveiling charges of negligence at the end of last year.
A class action lawsuit against Amplify is also underway in federal civil court, overseen by Judge David Carter, a well known judge in Orange County for his work on homelessness.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.