2023 Highlights: California Communities Win Against Oil and Gas

The Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign is wrapping up a year of major environmental victories in California. Through legislative advocacy, legal action, and grassroots organizing, the Sierra Club’s expert staff and dedicated volunteers were instrumental in defending communities and the environment from the harms of oil and gas extraction.

While there is still much work to be done, we’d like to step back and recognize the significant progress being made. Here’s a brief summary of some of the CA Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign’s victories in 2023:

Statewide Victories

  • Preventing gasoline price gouging. California faced some of the biggest price hikes for gasoline in the country in 2022. That’s why Sierra Club backed SB 2, which gives the California Energy Commission broad powers to investigate refiners and allows the Commission to punish price gouging. The law took effect June 26th of this year.
  • Passing the Orphan Well Prevention Act. Originating out of the oil well remediation coalition space Sierra Club convenes with 15 partner organizations, AB 1167 tackles the practice of offloading low-production wells from large operators to small, financially insolvent operators who then abandon their clean-up responsibilities. This bill requires that upon any purchase of a low-productivity well, the buyer must front the entire cost of clean-up before the transfer can move forward. The Sierra Club helped draft the language of this bill and supported it through every step of the legislative process.  
  • California Sues Big Oil. After a years-long campaign calling on Governor Newsom to hold Big Oil accountable, Newsom announced that the state of California is suing Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and the American Petroleum Institute to create an abatement fund to support California communities in recovering from climate disasters. Sierra Club and our coalition partners helped provide the cover needed for the Governor to make this bold move in the fight against big oil.  
  • Central CA vs. ExxonMobil. The Sierra Club's Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter and partners secured major victories halting expanded oil drilling along the Central Coast this year. In September, a U.S. district court upheld Santa Barbara County's denial of an ExxonMobil trucking plan to transport millions of gallons of oil weekly through the county, effectively stopping the route. Additionally in October, after a coordinated campaign by regional environmental groups, ExxonMobil subsidiary Pacific Pipeline Company withdrew its application to build a new pipeline to restart offshore platforms. Though ExxonMobil now seeks to revive an old pipeline, these monumental court and advocacy wins prevented further spills and pollution from this major oil conglomerate. 
  • Consistent Engagement in California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) Rulemakings and Public Hearings Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels team actively participated and coordinated partner engagement in all CalGEM rulemakings and public comment periods in 2023, providing technical recommendations for programs related to regulating methane emissions, how to prioritize orphan wells for clean up, and methods for estimating costs of full remediation of oil wells and oil infrastructure for onshore and offshore drilling sites. 
  • Reigning in corporate influence in the referendum process. In partnership with environmental justice partners and labor groups, Sierra Club helped pass AB 421 to fix California’s referendum process. The bill requires that referendums use clear language and disclose major funders on the ballot, while also making common-sense changes to how referendums are withdrawn. These changes will make the referendum process less confusing for voters and make it more difficult for corporations to use referendums to subvert the will of Californians and undermine environmental progress.

Local Victories

  • Watchdogging Los Angeles County’s oil phase-out. Ever since Los Angeles County voted to ban new oil drilling and phase out existing oil drilling in 2021, Sierra Club has worked vigilantly to ensure that the County follows through on its commitment. We’ve done this by regularly meeting with County Supervisors and the Department of Regional Planning to make sure that they implement their promises. Sierra Club and our coalition has also continued to engage with community members and stakeholders, canvassing thousands of residents living near the Inglewood Oil Field. 
  • Stopping Oil Drilling Expansion in Long Beach. While LA phases out oil drilling, Sierra Club has had to fight hard in the City of Long Beach against increasing oil production. To this end, Sierra Club helped organize several events in Long Beach, including an Earth Day Teach-in about oil drilling in and a 4th of July protest. Earlier this year Sierra Club also passed a motion with the City to look at alternative sources of revenue other than oil drilling. Sierra Club advocacy also resulted in the State Lands Commission rejecting Long Beach's 5-year oil drilling expansion plan.  
  • Working with Climate Brunch to stop new oil drilling next to homes and schools. Signal Hill Petroleum is proposing new oil wells next to homes, schools and other sensitive receptors with an unprecedented 20 year extension. In Signal Hill we started a new campaign with Climate Brunch to begin to put pressure on the City Council, collecting over 300 petitions.
  • Ventura County fights back as Supervisors side with Big Oil The Sierra Club's Santa Barbara-Ventura Chapter, along with CFROG, VISION, and Last Chance Alliance, rallied together in Ventura County in September to protest the Board of Supervisors' resolution that weakened oil drilling setback rules. Despite setbacks adopted in 2020, the Board sided with the oil industry by excluding rework permits and plugged wells from setback requirements, enabling drilling to continue near homes and schools. The Sierra Club coalition showed up with matching shirts and signs, rallying ahead of the Board meeting to send a clear message against big oil influence in local politics. Although the Board passed the pro-oil resolution, the event marked a launching point for the Sierra Club and its partners to continue building power and partnerships to protect setbacks in future fights.
  • Introducing Larry the Farmer in Kern County:  Earlier this year, organic Farmer Larry Saldana arrived home to his farm in Kern County to find puddles of oil on the ground and splashes of oil on his fruit trees, buildings, and vehicles. Oil had even sprayed onto the pets and farm animals of three neighboring properties.The remains of an idle oil well on his property, owned and operated by Sequoia Exploration, started to leak. Sierra Club helped amplify Larry’s story and pushed CalGEM to clean up the leak.