an oil well next to a house

A "nodding donkey" pumps oil in a neighborhood near Shell's Alamitos No. 1 discovery well on Signal Hill in Long Beach, California.

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Big Win in California as Big Oil Drops Effort to Drill Near Schools and Homes

"Big Oil spent tens of millions of dollars trying to fool voters," said one campaigner, "but it was no match for the groundswell of people power and community support."

Environmental, climate, and public health advocates on Thursday cheered what one green group called a "historic win" as a Big Oil industry group dropped a California ballot measure challenging a law banning oil drilling near homes, schools, and businesses.

The Sacramento Beereported that the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) will withdraw its ballot measure seeking to overturn the state's ban on drilling for oil within 3,200 feet of residential, educational, and commercial buildings.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill—introduced by then-state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80)—in September 2022.

"We just won our David vs. Goliath battle," the Protect California Communities campaign said on social media. "Big Oil officially withdrew their deceitful initiative!"

"Our law is safe and will finally take effect," the group added. "We just protected California neighborhoods from toxic oil drilling!"

CIPA chairman Jonathan Gregory issued a salty statement following the ballot measure's withdrawal.

"Supporters of the energy shutdown can make unfounded claims in the press and in paid advertisements, but they can't make those claims in court without evidence," he said, according to the Bee. "That's why we are pivoting from the referendum to a legal strategy."

However, Newsom said CIPA's move "ends harmful drilling in our communities and enforces common-sense pollution controls."

"Big Oil saw what they were up against—and they folded, again," the governor said on Thursday. "No parent in their right mind would vote to allow drilling next to daycares and playgrounds. This is a huge win for all Californians, especially the two million living within a half-mile of these operations."

Food & Water Watch California director Chirag Bhakta said in a statement that "while this is a moment to celebrate the power of people coming together to take on Big Oil, we must continue to get toxic oil drilling out of neighborhoods, as well as all fossil fuel infrastructure, which also poses a huge risk to public health and causes pollution to our water and air."

Bhakta added that Newsom must now "immediately shut down the dangerous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility which was the site of the biggest methane blowout in U.S. history almost a decade ago and is an ongoing threat to nearby residents."

Communities for a Better Environment Darryl Molina Sarmiento said that "Big Oil spent tens of millions of dollars trying to fool voters, using the profits made at the expense of community health, but it was no match for the groundswell of people power and community support we were able to unite all across California."

Food & Water Watch's Bhakta said that public opposition to repealing the law "proves once again that Californians do not want dangerous and polluting oil rigs in their backyards, near where their children go to school and play or near hospitals."

"We will not sacrifice our communities anymore," he vowed. "This victory is due to the dedication of so many, and particularly frontline communities who are experiencing the brunt of the oil industry's pollution and have been advocating for years to get dirty oil drilling out of their backyards."

Nalleli Cobo is one of those people. The 22-year-old activist—who helped found the grassroots group People Not Pozos (Spanish for wells)—is recovering from illness related to growing up alonside an oil well and has been tirelessly fighting against Big Oil's plans to drill near residential communities.

"When I was about 11, I was diagnosed with asthma. By the time I turned 19, we had shut down the drilling in our South L.A. neighborhood, but not before I was diagnosed with stage 2 reproductive cancer," Cobo explained. "I lost my ability to bear children as a result. After three surgeries, eight minor procedures, three rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation, I was cancer-free as of two years ago, at 20."

"My experience, like that of others who live in neighborhoods polluted by oil drilling, is a constant reminder that those in power do not value our health and wellbeing," she added. "It's a signal that some communities are expendable, that our lives don't matter as much as the fossil fuel industry's profits."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.