California lawmakers challenge Trump’s bid to expand oil drilling and fracking statewide

Carrizo Plains National Monument
A new state law would prohibit oil or gas drilling infrastructure on state lands near federal parks and monuments, such as the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California on Monday sought to block the Trump administration from allowing new oil and gas wells in national parks and wilderness areas in the state.

Any new oil or gas projects approved in federally protected areas would be prohibited from having their pipelines or other essential infrastructure cross state lands, under legislation approved by California lawmakers.

“This bill is all about California fighting the Trump administration’s plan to frack and drill in some of our most beautiful federal protected lands and national monuments,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates), author of the bill.


That prohibition would include state lands near the Carrizo Plains National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, an area known for its spectacular wildflower blooms and potentially large reserves of oil and gas.

The legislation, AB 342, now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom for his consideration. The Democratic governor has been a frequent critic of the Republican president’s efforts to expand oil and gas drilling in California.

If signed by Newsom, the new law would add to California’s portfolio of laws and litigation aimed at countering the Trump administration’s bids to expand oil and gas exploration, relax environmental protections and dismantle Obama-era regulations to combat climate change.

California has filed more than 50 lawsuits over Trump administration actions on a variety of issues, including more than two dozen challenges to policies proposed by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel-efficiency standards.

During the summer, California circumvented the Trump administration’s efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers to gradually increase fuel-efficiency standards.

California lawmakers this week also may approve legislation that would allow state agencies to lock in protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and other environmental and labor laws that were in place before President Trump took office in January 2017.


Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law blocking new offshore oil drilling in California by barring the construction of pipelines, piers, wharves or other infrastructure necessary to transport the oil and gas from federal waters to state land.

The legislation approved on Monday in essence expands that prohibition to state lands near federally protected lands.

The bill bars any state agency from granting land leases or other conveyance for pipelines and infrastructure for any new oil or gas project on those federal sites. That includes the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over all submerged lands and the beds of rivers, lakes, bays, estuaries and inlets, as well as waters extending three miles off shore.

“It is a big signal to Trump that California is not going to stand by and allow him to expand fossil fuel extraction and contribute to a worsening of the climate change emergency,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

Under the legislation, oil and gas companies still would have the right to enter into leases to use privately held land for infrastructure.

Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) accused the bill’s supporters of trying to put California’s oil and gas industry out of business, saying the legislation will have an especially harsh impact on the Central Valley.

“This is a blatant attack on the oil industry,” said Grove, whose district is in the heart of California oil country.

Grove and other critics said curtailing oil production in California will only lead to an increase in oil imports from outside areas that don’t have the state’s strict regulations and environmental protections.


The bill would increase the demand for foreign oil, eliminate jobs and will have no environmental benefits, said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for the California Independent Petroleum Assn., which represents approximately 500 independent crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty owners and other industry-related companies in the state.

While the legislation provides an exemption for existing leases for oil pipelines and other infrastructure that cross state lands, the petroleum association says it is not ironclad. The State Lands Commission has the authority to determine what a new lease is, and could classify a renewal application as a new lease and deny it, Lockhart said.

In April, the Trump administration announced details of its plan to open more than a million acres of public and private land in California to fracking, ending a five-year moratorium on leasing federal land in California to oil and gas developers. Trump’s plan targets public and private land spread across eight counties in Central California: eastern Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.

Some of the parcels in the plan are also adjacent to Los Padres National Forest, Carrizo Plain National Monument and the Wind Wolves Preserve.

In July, the Bureau of Land Management halted plans to drill an oil well in the Carizzo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, which would have been the first well since the monument was established by President Clinton in 2001, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

“We do not want fracking. We do not want new oil wells in San Luis Obispo County,” said Charles Varni of the Coalition to Protect SLO County, which supported an unsuccessful local ballot measure in 2018 that would have banned all fracking and new oil wells.