Prince James Story

Last month, the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) collected enough signatures for their referendum seeking to halt SB1137. 

SB1137 mandates oil and gas facility operators in protected areas to implement strict pollution controls and develop response plans to protect the health of frontline communities. These frontline communities or “health and protection zones” include  those living within 3,200 feet of existing oil wells.

SB1137 would also implement stricter policies and rules for wells already existing in these “health and protection zones.”  

Rock Zierman, Chief Executive Officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association is spearheading the effort against SB 1137. (source: cipa.org).

Provided Secretary of State Shirley Weber formally qualifies the oil industry’s petition, the issue of neighborhood drilling in California will go before voters on the 2024 ballot.

A press release from the CIPA argues SB1137 only threatens to increase gas prices in the state by making it harder to drill oil, which leads to more oil being imported from other countries.

“California-produced oil is the most climate-compliant oil in the world. Producers in our state must adhere to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction program and account for all emissions. Foreign oil imports are exempt from those requirements,” said Rock Zierman, Chief Executive Officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), which is spearheading this effort.

Environmental Justice activists push back

But environmental justice activists have a different opinion.

“Big Oil has spent the last few months price gouging us at the pump to pay for this mission. Twenty 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,” said Kobi Naseck, Coalition Coordinator, VISIÓN Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods. “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.”

A house on Sanford Avenue sits directly across from active oil and gas operations conducted by Sampson Operators on January 11, 2023. (Aryana Noroozi, Black Voice News Newsroom / CatchLight Local).
Flowers grow on the sidewalks of E Sandison Street on January 11, 2023. This Wilmington street is directly beside Sampson Operator’s active oil and gas operations.(Aryana Noroozi, Black Voice News Newsroom / CatchLight Local).
“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?” asked  Kobi Naseck, Coalition Coordinator, VISIÓN Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods. (source: linkedin.com).

The CIPA filed the referendum one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB1137, and in under two months, gathered over 978,000 signatures in hopes of placing the referendum on the 2024 ballot. 

Last Chance Alliance organization claims there have been multiple reports of fraud in regard to signature gathering and that some petitioners are misleading people to gain their signatures.

“We’re calling on the California Attorney General to investigate this campaign because it’s a crime to mislead and deceive voters into signing a petition,” Community organizer Cesar Aguirre of the Central California Environmental Justice Network said. “The Attorney General should be investigating this campaign, which is built on lies from top to bottom. It’s an assault on frontline communities because they’re suffering from the health harms of oil and gas, and it’s an assault on our democracy when we can’t trust the [petition system], to be honest about what these laws are about.”

Emergency regulation filed 

In what seems like a game of chess, with one side trying to outmaneuver the other, the Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) of the Department of Conservation filed an emergency regulation calling for the immediate implementation of the policies listed in SB1137 to protect frontline communities. 

Beside John Mendez Baseball Park, a community park in Wilmington, California, Warren E & P operates hundreds of active wells and conducts lateral drilling on January 11, 2023. (Aryana Noroozi, Black Voice News Newsroom / CatchLight Local).

“Californians living fence line to toxic oil operations need immediate and permanent protections from the threat of neighborhood drilling. This emergency rulemaking is a strong signal that CalGEM is preparing to carry out its mission to protect public health in the short term,” said Naseck. “The agency should take advantage of this moment to continue its long-delayed public health rulemaking, which will guarantee permanent protections for all. We need a regulator who will prioritize our health and environmental justice over Big Oil lies.”

Prince James Story

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at Princejames@blackvoicenews.com or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.

Aryana Noroozi

Black Voice News photojournalist Aryana Noroozi was born in San Diego, California and graduated with a master’s degree from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her love for visual storytelling led her to document immigrant and deportee communities and those struggling with addiction. She was a 2020 Pulitzer Center Crisis Reporting Fellow and a GroundTruth Project Migration Fellow. She is currently a CatchLight/Report for America corps member employed by Black Voice News. You can learn more about her at aryananoroozi.com. You can email her at aryana@blackvoicenews.com.