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California's secondary membership with anti-oil alliance frustrates both sides of debate

south belridge1 (copy)

This is a view of oil production in Kern County's South Belridge Oil Field, one of the most productive in California.

California has come away from the COP26 climate conference in Scotland with a second-tier membership to an international organization that shares Gov. Gavin Newsom's commitment to phasing out production of oil and gas, much to the disappointment of local petroleum industry leaders.

While in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Golden State delegates joined the new Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, led by Costa Rica and Denmark. California was given an associate membership but not a core membership, apparently because the Newsom administration did not commit to end permitting of all oil drilling in the state sooner than its previously stated deadline of 2045.

Associate members, which besides California consist of New Zealand and Portugal, "will have taken significant concrete steps that contribute to the reduction of oil and gas production," according to BOGA's website. There are eight core members, including Sweden, Ireland and France. No other U.S. states have joined BOGA at any membership level.

"With fossil fuels powering much of the global energy system, it's critical that we partner with other states and nations around the world to build momentum for the phase-out of oil and gas production," Newsom said in a news release earlier this month. "Together, we must move beyond oil and usher in a cleaner and greener future that safeguards our communities, environment and the economy."

Under intense pressure from climate change and environmental justice advocates, Newsom has made clamping down on in-state oil production a big focus of his administration. Besides aiming to reach carbon neutrality statewide by 2045, the governor has declared no new, emissions-producing cars will be sold in California starting in 2035, and he has moved to halt the controversial oilfield practice known as fracking by 2024, among other petroleum-related measures.

His efforts have stirred controversy at every turn, not only from industry people who warn he's going too far but from environmental activists who say he isn't doing enough.

In response to the Nov. 11 announcement of California joining BOGA, Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy issued a statement highlighting the administration's "failure to stop new oil and gas permitting."

"Vital as Governor Newsom’s actions like banning new oil wells within 3,200 feet of communities are, his pattern of slow progress is not enough to stop global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius," she wrote. "Nor is it enough to secure Governor Newsom’s place as a climate leader with the rest of BOGA’s first tier members. That path begins with ending all fossil fuel permits and that is what we urge Governor Newsom to do.”

California oil leaders were disappointed as well, but for different reasons.

For years the industry has argued that the state's continuing thirst for oil means that slowing production, as Newsom has done on different levels, sends jobs and potential local tax revenue overseas, even as it means oil consumed in California will be produced under much looser environmental standards.

Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association trade group, noted BOGA's founding members — Costa Rica and Denmark — have far fewer residents than California and they produce and consume significantly less oil.

"The fact that the governor wants to eliminate in-state production while demand is still high and replace it with imported foreign crude, which is totally exempt from our climate compliance programs, shows how little he cares about the Central Valley," Zierman said by email.

A spokesman for another industry group, the Western States Petroleum Association, noted the President Joe Biden administration did not commit the United States to the BOGA accord.

"Bans, mandates and political plays will not make energy more affordable, equitable or reliable for California's families," spokesman Kevin Slagle wrote in an email.

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