Oil industry drops ballot challenge (SacBee)

Oil group said it would withdraw an initiative for drilling within 3,200 feet from homes, schools and businesses. Instead, it would challenge the law in court.

California oil industry drops ballot challenge to law that bans drilling near homes, schools BY ARI PLACHTA UPDATED JUNE 27, 2024 9:25 AM

A California oil industry group said Wednesday it would withdraw an initiative from the November ballot challenging a state law that bans drilling within 3,200 feet from homes, schools and businesses. Instead, the California Independent Petroleum Association said it would challenge the law in court.

“Supporters of the energy shutdown can make unfounded claims in the press and in paid advertisements, but they can’t make those claims in court without evidence,” said the group’s chairman Jonathan Gregory in an announcement. “That’s why we are pivoting from the referendum to a legal strategy.”

The announcement ends an expensive campaign after oil industry groups raised more than $20 million aimed at convincing voters to overturn the law. In turn, it spurred a high-profile defense from Gov. Gavin Newsom and celebrities such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jane Fonda.

The 2022 law, SB 1137, banned new oil wells and redrills within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, businesses and other residential areas. It was challenged immediately by oil industry groups, which collected signatures for a ballot measure asking voters to repeal it.

The oil setback law followed years of campaigning by environmental justice advocates seeking to lessen pollution in communities near wells. Industry opponents said it would threaten jobs, make California more dependent on foreign oil and drive up gasoline prices.

Once the industry challenge qualified for the ballot two years ago, the law was put on hold. Now, according to environmental advocates, the initiative’s withdrawal puts the law into effect.

Members of the group opposing the oil industry ballot measure, a Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California, celebrated the news Wednesday night.

“Big Oil spent tens of millions of dollars trying to fool voters, using the profits made at the expense of community health, but it was no match for the groundswell of people power and community support we were able to unite all across California,” said director of Communities for a Better Environment Darryl Molina Sarmiento in a statement.

It’s not uncommon in California for companies to attempt referendums on laws affecting their industry in hopes that voters wipe laws off the books, or at least create delays for years until the law goes into effect.

Nearly 3 million Californians live within 3,200 feet of a working oil or gas well, largely in Kern and Los Angeles Counties. Medical research indicates that people living near wells are at higher risk for asthma, respiratory illness and some cancers.

Environmental justice advocates have highlighted that many of those living near oil facilities are people of color. Those groups celebrated CIPA’s withdrawal of their ballot measure as a clear vindication.

“This is an incredible victory for the environmental justice communities that began organizing 20 years ago and built this campaign,” said Mabel Tsang, political director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

“We defeated them at their own game, playing by their own rules. So it’s an incredible moment not only for the people who live with oil drilling within their neighborhoods, but it’s an incredible indication of what’s possible.”

Thumbnail Image: Sunset over an oil rig seen from Huntington Beach, California, USA (9285).jpg (CC BY-SA) Attribution: Peter J Markham