November 13, 2022

Elyssa Pachico | +1 503-347-2329 |


California’s Oil Industry Subverts Democracy with Petition to Undo Historic Health & Safety Law and Continue Drilling in Neighborhoods


Signature Gatherers Across the State Have Lied to Californians to Collect Signatures 


SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, the California Independent Petroleum Association announced that it has collected enough signatures to qualify a petition to overturn Senate Bill (SB) 1137, a law banning new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of sensitive sites like homes, schools, hospitals and prisons. SB 1137 was championed by Governor Gavin Newsom, democratically passed by the California Legislature, and hailed internationally as a historic win for environmental justice communities across California living with the toxic fumes, spills, and leaks from neighboring oil wells. 

Should the Secretary of State formally qualify the oil industry’s petition, the issue of neighborhood drilling in California will go before voters on the 2024 ballot. The vital public health and safety protections the law provides, a hard fought win for frontline communities, would not take effect until after the results of the election. However, similar protections can and should still be provided through state oil regulator CalGEM’s ongoing public health and safety rulemaking process, which is unaffected by the SB 1137 referendum effort.

Filings show oil companies funneled over $20 million as of December 2 to the committee Stop the Energy Shutdown, a Coalition Of Small Business Owners, Concerned Taxpayers, Local Energy Producers And The California Independent Petroleum Association. There have been widespread reports of petitioners lying to voters to collect the 623,212 signatures needed to get the referendum to overturn SB 1137 on the 2024 ballot. The Secretary of State’s office has been inundated with voter fraud complaints showing signature gatherers claiming that signing the petition would lower gas prices as well as reports about petitioners saying it would end the practice of urban oil drilling. 

Eight funders of the referendum campaign each spent over a million dollars and are responsible for drilling within the authorized 3,200 foot setback zone: 

  • Sentinel Peak Resources: $4,500,000 with 1,475 wells within the setback zone 
  • Signal Hill Petroleum: $3,200,000 with 481 wells within the setback zone
  • E & B Natural Resources Management Corp: $2,950,000.00 with 1,230 wells within the setback zone
  • Vaquero Energy Inc: $1,800,000 with 472 wells within the setback zone
  • Crimson Resource Management Corp: $1,587,000 with 253 wells within the setback zone
  • Macpherson Oil Company LLC: $1,486,000 with 227 wells within the setback zone
  • Holmes Western Oil Corp: $1,000,000 with 1 well within the setback zone
  • California Independent Petroleum Association: $1,000,000; industry trade association without active wells

Three of the top contributors, E&B Natural Resources, Sentinel Peak Resources and Signal Hill Petroleum, are well-known villains to the communities they operate in. On December 2, an idle well in Bakersfield owned by E&B Natural Resources blew out, injuring an oil field worker. State regulators warned E&B about excessive pressure at seven locations in the Fruitvale Oil Field, “later characterizing them as presenting ‘an immediate danger to the surrounding area,’ including homes, parks, commercial centers and an elementary school”, according to E&B initially resisted state orders to cap the well, but later agreed. It was during this process the well blew out.

In August, new infrared footage showed methane leaking from wells at E&B Natural Resources and Signal Hill Petroleum operations, threatening the health and safety of the surrounding communities. The reports lead to Notices of Violation (NOV) by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for both E&B and Signal Hill Petroleum. E&B Natural Resources was also responsible for a 1,600-gallon oil leak in the Inglewood Oil Field in 2021. 

Across the state, industrial oil operations take place just feet from homes, schools and hospitals, increasing community risks of asthma, preterm birth and cancer. Almost three million people live within 3,200 feet of an operational oil well and California is one of the last oil producing states in the nation to allow oil drilling in neighborhoods. The state’s own independent scientific analysis of oil production found that proximity to oil production sites increases exposure to toxic chemicals and recommended science-based setbacks separating oil wells from sensitive land uses to protect public health.

In response to today’s announcement, climate advocates and frontline communities exposed to oil drilling pollution have issued the following comments: 

“California’s referendum process is clearly broken when big polluters can spend $20 million to collect signatures to overturn necessary public health protections that the people most affected by oil drilling pollution have been demanding for over a decade. Oil companies want to overturn a newly signed law that stops new drilling near homes and schools, a safety measure championed by Governor Newsom to protect children and families.” – Cesar Aguirre, Central California Environmental Justice Network

“Despite defeat in the legislature, oil and gas executives have dropped $20 million to subvert our democratic processes and try and overturn public health laws. Over the course of the past two months they have lied to Californians to get enough qualifying signatures on a fraudulent ballot measure. Big oil’s agenda is clear: they are avoiding paying their fair share and continue endangering the health of families, students, children and elders in our state.” – Mabel Tsang, Political Director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance

“Big Oil has spent the last few months price gouging us at the pump to pay for this mission. $20 million dollars taken from California’s working families gallon by gallon all to undo a democratically passed law and buy their way out of a common sense legislation. Everyone should be watching what’s happening in California right now – are we really going to let these big corporations buy back a law that stops them from setting up shop in our backyards and poisoning our kids? I don’t think so. They’re in for a helluva fight.” – Kobi Naseck, Coalition Coordinator, VISIÓN Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods

“The oil industry flat-out lied to voters about this referendum’s aims, which isn’t just an assault on democracy – it’s a crime. Polluters know very well that protections against neighborhood drilling are immensely popular. That’s why they’re telling voters their petition protects the new health-and-safety law, when in fact it does the opposite. The entire referendum campaign is based on lies, and the attorney general needs to launch an immediate investigation into these misleading signature-gathering practices.” – Hollin Kretzmann, Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute

“The truth is, we hit them where it hurts. The oil and gas industry has spent a decade combating  every form of setbacks, and spent over $20 million on the referendum so far. SB 1137 passed with a broad mandate: the support of the governor, legislature, and millions of Californians in frontline communities exposed to harmful pollution as a result of oil and gas drilling. This news is a demoralizing setback, but the fight is not over. The referendum does not change the victory of SB 1137’s passing. Instead, it serves as an impetus to sustain the momentum at the polls in 2024.”  – Brandon Dawson, Director, Sierra Club CA

​​“Big Oil’s callous disregard for the wellbeing of Californians is on full display when they desperately spend millions to keep drilling near playgrounds and schools or jack up prices at the pump to make record profits for shareholders. This ploy is the latest from an industry that refuses to shift their business model to adapt to the needs of our world, and would rather double down all they have to extract every single drop of oil and penny from our society while they watch it burn; rather than pivoting to aid in the energy transition” – Ilonka Zlatar, Organizer with Oil and Gas Action Network

“After over a decade of advocacy by frontline community leaders, the state finally passed legislation to end neighborhood oil and gas drilling. Sadly, the oil and gas industry refuses to let go of this harmful, racist strategy of sacrificing low-income communities of color for private gain, and it has spent millions of dollars harvesting signatures—often by deceitful, illegal means—in order to subvert our democracy and keep drilling without reasonable, science-driven protections for communities. This delay will harm millions of Californians, but we look forward to the people standing against the industry’s worst excesses at the ballot box in November 2024.” –  Dan Ress, Staff Attorney, Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment 

“This is the same playbook Big Oil used in Ventura County this year to undermine environmental protections and our democracy. Big Oil spent $8 million on a local referendum to undo common sense environmental protections passed by our Board of Supervisors. After successfully undermining our local democracy, the industry is now using this game plan on a larger scale to overturn years of hard work by frontline communities for setbacks. Governor Newsom needs to show California is not for sale and impose an immediate moratorium on all new oil wells, especially ones next to schools and homes.” – Tomás Rebecchi, Central Coast Organizing Manager for Food and Water Watch.

“California oil companies are pumping their record excess profits into a ballot measure, with the signatures collected using false statements to those who signed. Make no mistake — this ballot measure subverts the will of communities and their elected representatives so oil companies can continue to profit while communities living near oil operations suffer serious health problems.  The state legislature must make laws that protect public health, and not allow the oil companies to make laws that protect excess profits.” –Clair Brown, Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley

“Living near oil and gas wells is devastating for communities — but in California, oil companies don’t seem to care. The industry leaders behind this referendum are acting like bullies – throwing their money around to prevent common-sense public health protections for the millions of Californians living with toxic pollution. Some people have even filed complaints of misleading signature gathering tactics – which, if true, just underlines these oil companies’ lack of regard for our democracy and our health, all in the name of growing their own profits. Big Oil’s callous indifference to both the safety and well-being of Californians is on full display. We urge Governor Newsom not to submit to these Big Oil bullies and instead to double-down on defending these hard-won protections for communities living near drilling.” – Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner Amy Moas, Ph.D. 

“This entire ploy to capsize climate protections has been to fortify elites, white supremacy, and corporate domination at the expense of the rest of us. Migrant and Latinx communities are tired of Big Oil’s lies. Not only is the industry responsible for the initial displacement of entire communities across the world, but even after people embark on the dangerous journey of migration, they are faced with the detrimental health consequences of living with oil refineries in their backyards. We deserve safe and healthy neighborhoods and SB1137 is necessary to get us there!” – Americas, Matt Nelson, Director of Digital Impact

“For decades the fossil fuel industry has lied to the public about the harm they’ve caused our environment, and we’re seeing this culture of deception continue through this signature gathering farce. The fossil fuel industry will stop at nothing to overturn the will of the people for profit, including keeping our communities dirty and our people sick. Corporate short sighted greed will doom many more Californians to dirty air and water.” – Nik Evasco, Program Director, 350 Bay Area

“As nurses we have watched corporate interests trump the health and safety of people time and again.  Big tobacco, big ag, big pharma… and now big oil can join the ranks.  Finding loopholes, making a mockery of democratic processes and all the while causing human and ecological harm. Enough.” – Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing and Health Professions, University of San Francisco

“Californians overwhelmingly support public health setbacks to protect our communities from toxic oil drilling. The fact that fossil fuel corporations have once again spent millions of dollars to mislead the public and protect their profits makes me sick. We urge Governor Newsom to continue his climate leadership by immediately halting all permits for oil and gas drilling, especially within the 3,200-foot setback zone established by SB 1137.” – Ellie Cohen, CEO, The Climate Center

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