Bill Holding Drillers Legally Liable for Harms Advances, Backed by 64 Public Interest Groups And Activist Nalleli Cobo, Says Consumer Watchdog
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SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 16, 2024 ~ Los Angeles resident and activist Nalleli Cobo, a cancer survivor, gave powerful testimony today in support of Assembly Bill 3155 (Friedman). The bill, which aims to hold oil producers financially liable for harm caused by community oil drilling, passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee with a vote of 7 to 3. It will now move on to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee for further consideration on Monday.

Cobo shared her personal experience growing up just 30 feet away from an oil well and the health issues she faced as a result. "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," she said. "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 well-being."

Cobo's testimony was supported by 64 environmental, consumer and public interest groups who also came out in favor of AB 3155. The bill is sponsored by Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

In their joint statement, the groups wrote: "If oil and gas companies are going to continue to endanger the health of California residents, it is only fair they pay the costs when those residents get sick...We believe oil companies should be held accountable for the health harms they cause."

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Authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman and cosponsored by Senator Lena Gonzalez, AB 3155 creates a liability presumption for respiratory ailments, pre-natal defects, and cancer diagnoses for individuals who have lived within 3,200 feet of an oil and gas production facility that failed to use effective pollution control technology for at least two years. Under this bill, oil drillers could face penalties ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. However, they can rebut this presumption if they can prove that the person's health problems were caused by other factors or if they used the best available pollution control technology.

"This is a common sense bill," said Assemblymember Friedman. "The health effects caused by oil drilling cost American taxpayers $77 billion annually. It is time that the people causing that harm and burdening taxpayers with that extreme cost pay for the effects of their drilling."

According to FracTracker Alliance, there are currently 101,000 actively producing, idle, and newly permitted wells in California. Out of this number, 26,000 are located within the 3,200-foot health protective zone where millions of people live.

The scientific evidence shows a direct link between drilling and pre-term births, respiratory illnesses, and cancer. AB 3155 builds on previous legislation introduced by Senator Lena Gonzalez in 2022 that established a health protective zone of 3,200 feet between communities and oil drilling. However, the oil industry has contributed over $20 million to qualify a referendum on this November's ballot that would overturn this law.

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Data from FracTracker Alliance also reveals that wells located within the setback zone produce very little oil - an average of only 2.1 barrels per day. This is significantly lower than what is considered a good production amount for an onshore well according to the Energy Information Administration.

"Oil drillers think people living in these communities are disposable, which is why they don't use the best pollution control technology," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "AB 3155 tells the drillers that if they are going to drill in communities they better take every precaution to do it as safely as possible or they will be liable."

Kayla Karimi, Staff Attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment also expressed her support for AB 3155: "We believe AB 3155 is pivotal to protecting frontline communities in California. The cost of oil companies doing business cannot be paid for in residents' health and their subsequent health costs."

With the passing of AB 3155 out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, it is clear that there is growing support for holding oil producers accountable for the harm caused by their operations. The bill will now move on to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, where it will continue to be heard and debated.
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