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Politicians join industry's campaign against phasing out California oil production

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Rock Zierman

California's petroleum industry kicked off a public campaign Wednesday aimed at fending off efforts in Sacramento to scale back in-state oil and natural gas production.

A bipartisan coalition of mostly Central Valley lawmakers joined oilfield workers at an industry-hosted event that presented a list of reasons for permitting oil and natural gas production instead of moving forward with Gov. Gavin Newsom's calls to phase it out.

The effort spearheaded by the California Independent Petroleum Association came as several oil-related initiatives are expected to be put forward soon by the Newsom administration or the state Legislature.

Arguments made Wednesday in favor of preserving and even supporting the industry were summarized in a statement atop a petition, signed by almost 3,000 mostly Central Valley supporters, that CIPA plans to present to the governor:

"Governor Newsom, we urge you to protect quality careers and vital tax funding while ensuring Californians have access to affordable and reliable energy," the petition reads. "By prioritizing locally produced energy that is generated under the toughest environmental protections on the planet, you can maintain California’s climate leadership and protect our economy."

Four oil workers made statements by videotape at an online event CIPA put on for news media. Military veteran and Sentinel Peak Resources employee Javier Zavala said working in oil helped him buy a home, get through college, pay for his wife's doctorate and raise their children.

"I've been able to provide for my family thanks to a great career in oil and gas," he said.

Anti-oil sentiment has spread quickly in California as climate-change and anti-pollution activists work with environmental justice workers to pressure politicians to crack down on in-state oil production or eliminate it altogether. They worry about risks to air and groundwater quality as well as global warming.

A bill to ban the controversial oilfield technique known as fracking is being drafted, as is an administrative plan to create a standard buffer zone between petroleum operations and sensitive areas like homes and schools.

The governor has also proposed adding more than two dozen oil regulators this year, and his administration continues to work on an overdue report expected to explain how the state will achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 without decimating areas like Kern that rely on petroleum production for jobs and government revenues.

These efforts follow Newsom's moves to tighten industry oversight and placed a moratorium on a controversial technology called cyclic steaming that had been commonly used in Kern.

State representatives who spoke at CIPA's event raised concerns spanning personal and regional economies. None of their arguments were new but some have not been fully addressed in public by the governor or the environmental groups he often hears from.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, said she's concerned about climate change and environmental quality, just as she's sensitive to the cost of transportation fuels and electricity — a reference to the push to reduce the state power grid's environmental footprint.

Alternative fuels are worth pursuing, she said, "but let's not make this burden harder on working families."

State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, emphasized oil jobs pay well and they often provide a second chance to people out of prison. California isn't close to weaning itself off gasoline, she noted, and because no oil pipelines cross the Rockies, the state must turn to foreign producers — sending dollars overseas — if it cannot produce its own crude.

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, said cracking down on oil production moves the state further away from energy independence while increasing chances for energy shortages.

"We want California energy production by Californians," he said, then quickly added: "The governor's actions will disproportionately hurt our area."

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, was not present for the online conference but she said in a news release that so far no one has provided a "detailed, realistic plan to ensure oil and gas jobs in the Central Valley transition to clean energy jobs with the same pay and benefits."

"These jobs must be front and center in any discussion of a ‘post-oil’ California,” she stated.

CIPA CEO Rock Zierman pitched in to highlight the lower environmental standards used in other oil-producing countries, the tax base oil provides communities like Kern and the jobs and philanthropy the industry supports.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf