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The Ocean Frackers


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 themselves 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, Navajo Refining Company, 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 top 20 interest groups who spent the most money in the first six months included labor unions, the California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron and health care corporations.

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.

Now regulators are investigating whether the environmentally destructive practice, one that threatens fish and wildlife populations in the state’s marine waters, should require a separate permit and be subject to stricter environmental review.

“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 thus far have 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 or statement looking at the possible effects. That exemption was affirmed this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the internal emails reviewed by the AP,” Dearen and Chang stated.

Big oil lobbyist oversaw creation of marine protected areas

While federal regulators allowed oil companies to frack offshore, state officials have also left the door open for fracking and offshore oil drilling.

Inexplicably missing from the mainstream media and even most “alternative” 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, 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 waters in January 2012. She also served on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

Grassroots environmentalists, Tribal leaders, fishermen and advocates of democracy and transparency in government blasted the leadership role of the oil industry lobbyist in creating these “marine protected areas,” but state officials and representatives of corporate “environmental” NGOs 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 landmark Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 called for. Reheis-Boyd, a marina corporation executive, a coastal real estate developer and other corporate operatives on MLPA Initiative task forces oversaw the creation of “marine protected areas” that effectively allow fracking and offshore oil drilling 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, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

As I have pointed out in article after article, 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 Western States Petroleum Association has become the most powerful corporate lobby in California. The association now has enormous influence over both state and federal regulators – and MLPA Initiative advocates helped facilitate her rise to power.

Fracking sacrifice zones in California.

Fracking sacrifice zones 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, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.

Peripheral tunnels will provide water for fracking

Not only do the association and oil companies buy access to lawmakers, but 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. “Essentially, enough water has been injected into the oil fields here over the last forty years to create a lake one foot deep covering more than thirteen thousand square miles—nearly twice the surface area of Lake Ontario.”

Governor Brown has pursued an increasingly cozy relationship with oil companies, leading many to believe that he is going to promote the practice of fracking, in addition to pushing for the construction of the 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 for a deal the $27,200.00 that Occidental Petroleum Corporation contributed to Brown’s 2014 campaign. That’s the maximum allowable under California law.

Miller also noted the roughly $1 million that oil companies – members of the Western States Petroleum Association – contributed to Brown’s Proposition 30 campaign. These contributions include the following:

Aera Energy (Exxon-related), $125,000

Berry Petroleum, Denver, $35,000

Breitburn Operating, Houston, $21,250

CA State Pipe Trades Council (usually the pipeline union supports Big Oil), $100,000

Conoco Phillips, $25,000

E & B Natural Resources Management, Bakersfield, $20,000

MacPherson Oil Co., $50,000

Naftex, $10,000

Occidental Petroleum, $500,000

Plains Exploration & Production, $100,000

SoCal Pipe Trades Council, $125,000

Signal Hill Petroleum, $10,000

Vaquero Energy, $35,000

Venoco, $25,000

There is no doubt that the powerful oil industry and its chief lobbyist are going to use every avenue they can to divert more water for fracking, including taking Delta water through the peripheral tunnels proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). The industry will also use its increased power in California politics and environmental processes to expand fracking in the ocean unless Californians rise up and resist these plans.

It is time that Californians question state officials and MLPA Initiative advocates about why they supported the leadership role of an oil industry lobbyist in creating so-called “marine protected areas” off the California coast. After all, oil and water don’t mix!

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher

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