California’s most valuable oil and gas resources are primarily located in and adjacent to some of the state’s most spectacular beaches and coastline. The controversy over the development of oil and gas resources has been going on since 1921 when the first development was permitted. Since 1969, the concern about potential environmental damage resulting from a spill and the desire to avoid marring the coast with unsightly development has outweighed the desire to generate revenue from new offshore development. While the Commission put a moratorium on new oil and gas leases after the 1969 spill in Santa Barbara, the leases issued before 1969 continue to generate significant revenue to the state, as they have for almost 80 years. To ensure that the public fully benefits from existing production, the Commission operates a rigorous financial auditing program to ensure that California receives all the money it is owed.
Recent Commission opposition to offshore oil & gas drilling in federal waters
- A staff report to support the West Coast Ocean Protection Act by Senator Feinstein and the California Clean Coast Act by Representative Carbajal, legislation that would ban new offshore oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington, and consider supporting the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act introduced by Representative Levine that would ban new offshore oil and gas leasing in federal waters offshore Southern California. (06/29/2021 Item 50)
- A staff report to support certain provisions of H.R. 7608 by Representative Lowey, a fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill introduced in the 116th Congress, that would ban new offshore drilling leases and seismic testing. (08/20/2020 Item 62)
- A letter asking the federal government to revise its evaluation with respect to the Northern, Central, and Southern California Program Planning Areas and exclude all of California from the 2019-2024 National Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program. (03/09/2018)
- A letter urging the federal government to withdraw the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf from the 2019-2024 national leasing program and to schedule additional public meetings so that local voices can be heard. (02/07/2018)
- A resolution opposing the federal government’s “America-First” Offshore Energy Policy, which directed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a lease sales program that encourages the expansion of offshore drilling, and ordered a review of National Marine Sanctuaries for potential energy development. (06/22/2017 Item 78)
- A resolution supporting a ban on expanded offshore drilling off the Pacific coast and directing staff to take appropriate actions on behalf of the Commission to ensure the ban remains in place. (12/06/2016 Item 67)
Offshore Oil & Gas Located in California Waters
There are 11 actively producing offshore oil and gas leases in state waters, which are what remain of the more than 60 originally issued. These leases were issued prior to the catastrophic 1969 oil spill from Platform A in federal waters off Santa Barbara County, and some predate the formation of the Commission. Between 2010 and 2014, the bulk of the approximately $300 million generated annually for the state’s General Fund from oil and gas agreements was from these offshore leases. In 1921, the Legislature created the first tidelands oil and gas leasing program. Between 1921 and 1929, approximately 100 permits and leases were issued and over 850 wells were drilled in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. In 1929, the Legislature prohibited any new leases or permits. In 1933, however, the prohibition was partially lifted in response to an alleged theft of tidelands oil in Huntington Beach. It wasn’t until 1938, and again in 1955, that the Legislature would allow new offshore oil and gas leasing. Except for limited circumstances, the Legislature has consistently placed limits on the areas that the Commission may offer for lease and in 1994, placed the entirety of California’s coast off-limits to new oil and gas leases.
Offshore Oil & Gas Platforms and Islands
There are four offshore oil platforms in state waters off the coast of California. They are platforms Holly in Santa Barbara County, Eva and Emmy in Huntington Beach, and Esther off Seal Beach. There are also four large artificial islands in the Long Beach Harbor, known as the Long Beach Unit, and one small artificial island, Rincon Island, located off Rincon Beach in Ventura County. Rincon and Holly are no longer actively producing. Holly is in the process of having its wells plugged and abandoned, while Rincon has completed plug and abandonment and is awaiting final decommissioning determinations and CEQA analysis.
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Oil & Gas
There are 24 onshore oil and gas agreements in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta areas. The Commission’s interest in these areas is in the riverbeds. The only agreement that authorizes drilling on land under the Commission’s jurisdiction was issued in 1940. The other 23 agreements provide compensation to the state for wells that either pass through or are draining gas from state lands.
School Lands Oil & Gas
The Commission manages oil and gas leases that are located on School Lands. Over the past four years, those agreements have generated approximately $8 million in revenue that benefits the State Teachers’ Retirement System.
Legislatively Granted Lands Offshore Oil & Gas
Some sovereign lands that were legislatively granted to local municipalities in the early 1900s included oil and gas. These grants are generally located in southern California and include cities such as Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and Long Beach. Revenue derived from oil and gas leases on granted public trust lands are public trust assets of the state and may not be spent on general municipal purposes. Details about the oil and gas revenue from the legislative grants to Los Angeles and Newport Beach are available on the Granted Public Trust Lands page. Revenue from the Long Beach oil and gas program is allocated under a net profits agreement where the state receives a percentage of the profits, the operator receives a percentage of the profits, and the City receives a percentage of the profits. Between 2010 and 2014, Long Beach’s oil and gas program generated approximately $1.4 billion.
Offshore Oil & Gas Located in Federal Waters
The United States controls the issuance of new oil and gas leases in federal waters. While the Commission does not have control over that land, it has repeatedly objected to allowing new leases in the federal waters outside of the state boundary. The Commission’s voice has been heard as it has been over twenty years since the federal government issued new leases. For more information on the federal leasing program, please visit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
In the Pacific OCS Region, 23 oil and gas production facilities have been installed in federal waters. All of these facilities are off the coast of California. Twenty-two of these facilities produce oil and gas, while the other is a processing facility. Six companies are operating offshore oil and gas facilities in the Pacific Region. Information about these facilities, organized by operator and platform, is below.
- Beta Operating Company, LLC
Platforms Ellen, Elly, and Eureka
- Venoco, LLC (now under Chevron’s abandonment)
Platforms Gail, and Grace
- ExxonMobil Corporation
Platforms Harmony, Heritage, and Hondo
- Pacific Operators Offshore LLC
Platforms Hogan and Houchin
- Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC
Platforms Harvest, Hermosa, Hidalgo, and Irene
- DCOR, LLC
Platforms A, B, C, Edith, Gilda, Gina, Habitat, Henry, and Hillhouse
In California, the Geologic Energy Management Division is in charge of regulating all oil and gas operations. For federal waters, that duty is performed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.