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Big Oil sponsors dinners and awards for CA journalists as part of greenwashing campaign

by Dan Bacher
Big Oil’s campaign to influence the political system and the journalists that cover it has real world consequences in California, where oil drilling permits have skyrocketed in recent weeks.
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest corporate lobbying group in California, and big oil companies exercise their influence and power through a very sophisticated and well-oiled machine that has captured the regulatory apparatus in the supposedly “green” and “progressive” state.

WSPA wields their power in 8 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups; (5) working in collaboration with media; (6) sponsoring awards ceremonies, including those for legislators and journalists; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) creating alliances with labor unions.

In one of the clearest examples of the collaboration between Big Oil and the media, the Western States Petroleum Association sponsored a “media dinner” on Tuesday, February 28 in Sacramento as part of #BizFedSactoDays.

The flyer for the event stated, “Journalists who play an outsize role in shaping narratives about state politics and holding lawmakers accountable will join business leaders to pull back the curtain on how they select and tell stories about California policies, policy and power.”

Featured speakers at the program included Coleen Nelson of the Sacramento Bee, Laurel Rosenhall of the Los Angeles Times, Kaitlyn Schallhorn of the Orange County Register and Dan Walters of Cal Matters.

In a tweet, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, gushed:

“One of our favorite times of year is #BizFedSactoDays- when @BizFed helps amplify the presence and power of business in California. And we're honored to host the Media Dinner and featured media speakers! @DanCALmatters @LaurelRosenhall@ColleenMNelson @K_Schallhorn”

Then on March 16, the Sacramento Press Club announced in a tweet that WSPA was the new “Lede Sponsor” of the Sacramento Press Club's Journalism Awards Reception that was held on March 29: “Thank you to our new Lede Sponsor @officialWSPA! WSPA is dedicated to guaranteeing that every American has access to reliable energy options through socially, economically and environmentally responsible policies and regulations. Learn more more at

In response to this tweet, investigative journalist Aaron Cantu tweeted back on March 20, “As the recipient of @SacPressClub ’s environmental award last year, it’s concerning to see fossil fuel industry talking points passed off uncritically here. WSPA becoming lede sponsor happened in the context of a global PR turn as the climate crisis worsens.”

I totally agree with Cantu.

There is no doubt that WSPA and Big Oil have for years worked closely with media outlets.

In 2015, I wrote this article about how the LA Times and the California Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum) teamed up on a propaganda website: Fortunately, the Times is no longer managing and running that website.

More recently, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA President, was on the "shortlist" of nominees for the LA Times "Inspirational Women Awards” held on October 18, 2022.

Can you guess who was one of the sponsors of the LA Times awards? Yes, you guessed right — WSPA was a sponsor.

According to a tweet from @OfficialWSPA, "Today @latimes acknowledged a woman who is already well known in our industry as a trailblazer and inspiration to tens of thousands of women. Congrats to our fearless leader @WSPAPrez for being recognized as a shortlisted nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards."

In addition, four LA Times reporters last year received the “Courage in Journalism” award from the Sacramento Press Club in 2022. Yes, the Western States Petroleum Association was one of the sponsors of these awards last year also.

Big Oil’s campaign to influence the political system and the journalists that cover it has real world consequences in California, where oil drilling permits have skyrocketed in recent weeks.

In a major display of Big Oil’s continuing political power in California, a total of 897 oil drilling permits have been approved since the start of the year by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulator. Of those, 556 permits (62%) were issued inside the 3200 foot health protection zones that would have been created by Senate Bill 1137, according to an analysis by Kyle Ferrar, Western Coordinator of the Fractracker Alliance.

This brings the total number of permits to an astounding 14,622 new and reworked oil drilling permits approved by CalGEM since Jan. 2019, when Newsom took office.

According to FracTracker’s analysis of data from state oil regulator CalGEM, permits were issued within 3,200 feet of Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern, Central Coast and Northern California communities. Download a map of permit approvals within the 3,200’ health protective zone.

The California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) sponsored the referendum that has delayed the implementation of the setbacks law for two years. Filings with the California Secretary of State reveal that oil companies funneled over $20 million to the committee Stop the Energy Shutdown, a “Coalition Of Small Business Owners, Concerned Taxpayers, Local Energy Producers And The California Independent Petroleum Association.

The oil and gas industry spent over $34.2 million in the 2021-22 Legislative Session lobbying against SB 1137, legislation to mandate 3200 foot buffer zones around oil and gas wells, and other bills they were opposed to.

For the oil companies, this was just pocket change when you consider that combined profits of California oil refiners, including PBF Energy, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, Valero, and Phillips 66, were $75.4 billion in 2022.

Big Oil spent a total of $4,220,214 in lobbying expenses in the last quarter from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website. That brings the total of oil and gas corporation lobbying expenses to $34,270,001 in the eight quarters of the 2021-22 session:…

The Western States Petroleum Association, the trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. spent $11,720,912 in the 2021-22 session.

Chevron Corporation, the San-Ramon based oil giant that is infamous for environmental devastation and degradation from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Richmond, California, spent a total of $8,631,118 lobbying California officials in the 2021-22 session.

While a long and hard-fought campaign by environmental justice groups, with the help of Governor Gavin Newsom, was able to finally get SB 1137 approved by the Legislature, other important bills were stopped by oil industry-backed legislators.Those measures include a bill to ban offshore drilling off the California coast and another bill to divest State of California pension funds from investments in the fossil fuel industry.

However, the latest P.R. push by Big Oil — and the apparent embrace of this campaign by journalists — truly marks the end of political satire in "green" California. When #BigOil teams up with journalists, columnists and editors at events and only a couple of writers think there’s something wrong with this, you know we must be doomed.

It’s hard to write satirical songs and articles like I used to because the real world has become more bizarre than any satire could be.
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