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California Lawmakers Reject Offshore Oil Ban

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California Lawmakers Reject Offshore Oil Ban
Workers in protective suits continue to clean the contaminated beach in Huntington Beach, Calif., Monday, Oct. 11, 2021.
Workers clean an oil-strewn beach in Huntington Beach last October after a 25,000-gallon spill offshore. California lawmakers failed to advance a ban on offshore drilling in state waters.
Ringo H.W. Chiu The Associated Press

California lawmakers this week defeated legislation that would have banned offshore oil drilling in state waters.

The bill focused on three oil leases off the Orange County coast in Southern California, seven months after a damaged pipeline poured 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. Some of the oil made it onshore in Huntington Beach, harming wildlife and wetlands in the area.

But the legislation faced heavy opposition from the state’s oil industry and labor unions, leading to the bill’s defeat in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Democratic state Sen. Dave Min, who sponsored the bill, said he was disappointed by the committee’s decision.

“I will continue to explore all mechanisms and pathways to try to remove oil rigs off the coast of California,” Min said in a statement after the bill failed to advance. “The aging infrastructure of these offshore platforms means they are ticking time bombs. Another oil spill—and all of the associated environmental and economic damage—is inevitable unless we act now.”

Some Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the California legislature, feared the bill could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars if courts found the state financially liable for canceling the oil leases. Min, who represents parts of Orange County, said he will revamp his proposal to try to address concerns about the cost to taxpayers.

Limiting the state’s oil supply while gas prices are soaring also was a tough sell, especially as inflation hits a 40-year high and the war in Ukraine has rattled global energy markets. President Joe Biden has called on the United States to replenish its depleting strategic oil reserves.

“I think most legislators understand that every barrel of oil we don’t produce here under our strict environmental rules must be imported by foreign tankers floating offshore in our crowded ports from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or the Ecuadorian rainforest,” California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman told Politico in a text message after the bill failed.

Even if it passed, the legislation would have had a limited effect. Most oil drilling off California’s shores happens in federal waters—beyond 3 miles from shore. The November oil spill that inspired Min’s legislation likely was caused when a cargo ship’s anchor hit a 17-mile pipeline connected to an oil platform operating in federal waters. California is the seventh-largest oil producer in the country.

Workers in protective suits clean a contaminated beach with an offshore drilling station in the distance.
Workers in protective suits clean a contaminated beach with an offshore drilling station in the distance.
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