Newsom Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Culver City And Cat Canyon’s Fossil Fuel Fights

June 11, 2020
 Climate

In the absence of true leadership from above, these municipalities are making moves to protect residents from dangerous fossil fuels.

Newsom Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Culver City And Cat Canyon’s Fossil Fuel Fights

Nearly 18 months after taking office with a pledge to ban fracking, close the disastrous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, and generally clamp down on the fossil fuel industry in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has done exactly none of these things. In fact, like his predecessor Jerry Brown, Newsom is proving to be a firm friend of Big Oil and Gas throughout the state. Case in point: Recently — and in the midst of a global health emergency, no less — he has been quietly approving new fracking permits

It’s become quite clear that Gavin Newsom will not be an environmental leader for California (much less the country). The change we need will have to come from the people. And communities across the state are stepping up to the challenge. Two recent local victories against new oil development in California prove that progress towards a clean energy future can be made, with or without Newsom.

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Culver City Steps Up Against Big Oil

After eight long years of pressure by community organizations and Food & Water Action, a big victory was achieved in Culver City — site of the largest urban oil field in the country. The city council, responding to community demands, pursued and received a legal finding confirming the city has the authority to phase out oil drilling in its portion of the Inglewood Oil Field (more than 10 percent of the entire field). We understand that the Culver City City Council intends to pass an ordinance soon to do just that.

The history of our fight in Culver City:

  • 2012: The fight begins when thousands of concerned residents called on the city council to support a ban on fracking. Shortly thereafter, Culver City became the first city in California to call on the state to ban fracking.
  • After this initial victory, the fight expanded to end all oil drilling in Culver City, as the community fought back against proposals to increase drilling by 30-60 wells within city limits. The community puts forward city council candidates to stand up to this proposed expansion.
  • Food & Water Action jumped in to support this shift in the Culver City Council and endorsed candidates, most notably Daniel Lee, who would fight fossil fuel development in the city.
  • 2018: With a new, progressive, anti-oil council in power,  the city quickly moved to study the legality of phasing out oil drilling in its limits.
  • 2020: The results of the study are back and it’s a greenlight to phase out the oil-drilling within Culver City’s jurisdiction.

The next steps are clear: Culver City Council must continue on this path and ultimately phase out all oil and gas drilling in the city. We will continue to fight alongside our allies to ensure this complete victory. 

Environmental Justice for Cat Canyon, Defeating Shell and Exxon

After a three year fight against local community organizations, Aera Energy, co-owned by Shell and Exxon, recently withdrew its application to drill more than 200 new oil wells in Cat Canyon, Santa Barbara County. Aera is now the second of three companies to withdraw drilling applications for the canyon in the past two months.

In 2017, Food & Water Action and community partners began organizing to protect Cat Canyon from 750 proposed oil wells, which were targeting some of the dirtiest oil on Earth. We organized in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Guadalupe and Sisquoc — the communities that would be most directly affected by the new drilling. This included tabling at community events, hosting house parties, conducting tours of the area, and importantly, translating lots of information to Spanish and Mixteco. The communities affected most by the current and proposed drilling are majority Latinx, and many are from Indigenous communities that don’t speak Spanish or English.

Local Environmental Orgs Still Have A Steep Climb In Cat Canyon

Despite Aera’s withdrawal, community-led efforts to stop fossil fuel development in Santa Barbara county are far from over. In September, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission will vote on ExxonMobil’s application to restart three nearby offshore wells, which would involve dozens more dangerous, polluting work trucks and oil tankers on local roads each day. Meanwhile, TerraCore’s application to drill in Cat Canyon is still pending. However, Food & Water Action and local advocates that fought Aera’s application — including 350 Santa Barbara Safe Energy Now, Santa Barbara Community Action Network, CLUE, World Business Academy, Lideres Campesinas, CAUSE, MICOP, NAACP, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, Environmental Defense Center, Sunrise Santa Barbara and many others — vow to continue fighting the oil industry while advancing a just transition away from dirty energy.

We know that fossil fuel extraction disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. We know that we cannot fight for climate justice without also fighting for racial justice in all forms. We’ll keep tirelessly fighting for justice in Cat Canyon with supporters like you by our side.

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