Fossil fuel industry spent $34M lobbying Sacramento last year while reaping record profits

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/Fresno Bee file

The oil and gas industry spent over $34 million lobbying California lawmakers while reaping record profits in 2022, new figures show. As the public weathered high gas prices, the industry focused most of its influence on fighting a law to mandate buffer zones around oil and gas wells.

Western States Petroleum Association, a leading fossil fuel industry group, invested $11.7 million on lobbying last year, according to numbers posted on the California Secretary of State’s website. Chevron Corporation alone spent $8.6 million.

The industry, which reports lobbying expenses by quarter, spent nearly double its quarterly average this year during the end of legislative session. Much of that political influence was deployed against SB 1137, legislation to require 3,200 feet between new oil and gas wells and homes.

After the measure passed and was signed into law by the governor last year, oil and gas companies also bankrolled a $20 million signature gathering effort for a 2024 ballot referendum that will ask voters to reverse the law and has effectively halted its enforcement.

Other bills opposed by oil and gas companies died in the legislature last year, such as a proposed ban on drilling off the California coast and divestment of billions in fossil fuel industry holdings from state pension funds. Lawmakers reintroduced that proposal last week.

Meanwhile, four of the largest California oil refiners reported profits of $72.5 billion in 2022 as prices at the pump skyrocketed for drivers, according to Consumer Watchdog. Chevron reported $35.5 billion in earnings for 2022, more than double last year’s profits.

While California oil refiners made an average profit of 35 cents per gallon over the last 20 years, that margin jumped to 85 cents per gallon for Chevron and 75 cents for Marathon this year according to the consumer advocacy group.

The state legislature is considering legislation to establish a cap on windfall gasoline profits. A virtual discussion on unusually high natural gas prices is also scheduled for Tuesday at the California Public Utilities Commission.

In a letter sent to the federal oil and gas regulator on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission investigate the recent natural gas price spike to answer “whether market manipulation, anticompetitive behavior, or other anomalous activities are driving these ongoing elevated prices in the western gas markets.”

Environmental groups have cited an increase in approval of oil and gas well permits as a reflection of successful fossil fuel industry lobbying last year. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointee Uduak-Joe Ntuk resigned as head state oil regulator after his agency approved 3,382 permits in 2022, including for 551 new wells according to Fractracker Alliance.

Ntuk, who headed the California Geological Energy Management, was a former Chevron employee. Rallies in Sacramento by environmental justice activists, including the Last Chance Alliance, have urged Newsom to depart from past practices and appoint a an agency leader who is not affiliated with the industry.