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California Governor Signs Bill to Assess Cost of Shutting Down Oil Facilities

October 25, 2019


As the state works to combat climate change and move toward a fossil fuel-free future, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)’s legislation to assess the eventual price tag of shutting down and cleaning up California’s oil and gas infrastructure.

Senate Bill 551 directs the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to develop a process for assessing the costs of decommissioning all oil and gas infrastructure within its jurisdiction, and requires operators of an oil or gas facility to report its total liability for plugging and abandoning all wells and other facilities beginning in July 1, 2022 and at least every five years thereafter.

“I am very pleased Governor Newsom signed this bill into law, recognizing it as a key step in the planning process as we transition away from fossil fuels. If we do not know or fully plan for these costs, the public, in far too many instances, will be left unfairly holding the bag for this industry’s mess,” said Jackson.

Over the next several decades, California will face the significant challenge of infrastructure that remains from oil and gas production.  While oil and gas operators are required to bear the ultimate financial responsibility for shutting down their wells, removing infrastructure, and remediating sites, in several cases they are refusing to do so, leaving California taxpayers paying the costs.

One example of California state funds used to decommission oil and gas wells can be found in the offshore production off the Santa Barbara coast.

The decommissioning of Platform Holly, initiated in 2017 as a result of the 2015 Refugio oil spill and subsequent bankruptcy of oil operator Venoco, is currently estimated to cost upwards of $180 million. Similarly, the state now bears responsibility for shutting down Rincon Island, an artificial offshore structure formerly owned by a now-defunct and bankrupt operator. Estimated costs to the state are more than $50 million.

This legislation is part of Jackson’s long-standing efforts to address the fiscal and environmental impacts of oil and gas production in California. Her prior legislation includes:

  • Senate Bill 834, which became law on January 1, 2019, blocks the Trump Administration from expanding federal oil drilling off the California coast by ensuring that new pipelines and other infrastructure needed to support federal oil development cannot be built in California waters.
  • Senate Bill 44, Coastal Well Cleanup and Remediation Act (2017): Requires the State Lands Commission to monitor and plug orphaned wells when the original oil company that operated the well no longer exists.
  • Senate Bill 414, Rapid Oil Spill Response Act (2015): Authored in the aftermath of the Refugio Oil Spill to make oil spill response faster, more effective, and environmentally friendly.
  • Senate Bill 295 (2015): Helps reduce the risk of oil spills from pipelines by requiring the State Fire Marshall to annually inspect all intrastate pipelines and pipeline operators.

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