Defeated in court, California offshore drilling company turns to lobbying

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(Mark Rightmire/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

As the Trump administration pushes to dramatically expand fossil fuel production nationwide, a little-known California company looking to drill off the Los Angeles coast has found a new voice in Washington.

DCOR LLC, an oil company operating seven offshore drills in Southern California, recently inked a contract with Chris Jones of Baker & Hostetler, a prominent legal and lobbying firm, entering the influence scene for the first time in the company’s 20-year history. The filings show that Jones will lobby on “federal policy issues related to oil and natural gas exploration.”

The move comes two weeks after a federal judge ruled the company couldn’t conduct fracking at two proposed drilling locations near Ventura, California. This was the second legal defeat the company faced in less than a year. In November 2018, the same district court judge, Philip Gutierrez, prohibited the Trump administration from approving fracking permits until scientific inquiries into the process’s effects on the environment were completed.

The company argued that the restriction imposed undue financial hardships on its operations.

The company’s new venture into federal lobbying could be aimed at keeping pressure on policymakers to put out revised regulations that would allow the company to begin drilling off the coast.

Local leaders have expressed overwhelming opposition to that idea. And California environmental activists celebrated the court decision, citing fracking’s potentially catastrophic effects on oceanic environments and applauding the judge’s decision to wait for scientific results.

Some along the California coastline know the risks of offshore drilling all too well. In 1969, a platform malfunction at Dos Cuadras, an offshore oil field near Santa Barbara, released as many as 500,000 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel, causing environmental and economic devastation for hundreds of miles.

DCOR is one of dozens of energy companies across America looking to profit from the Trump administration’s decision to repeal Obama-era moratoriums on offshore drilling. Trump’s decision to open nearly all coastal waters for drilling consideration in January 2018, including the California coastline, was reportedly the culmination of years of lobbying efforts by oil companies.

Despite legal challenges, the Trump administration is holding firm on the issue, appealing a recent decision by a federal judge in Alaska who ruled that the president exceeded his authority in repealing the Obama-era regulations.

Speaking to NPR, Interior Department spokeswoman Molly Block commented, “Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President.”

DCOR is the first company to attempt to open a fracking operation off the California coast in more than 10 years. The company already manages nine traditional drilling platforms off the coast of Southern California, including the rig in the Dos Cuadras field that caused the 1969 spill.

Public records obtained by an environmental advocacy group in 2015 show dozens of safety violations at platforms owned by the company, including corroded wellheads and valves, damage that significantly increases the risk of causing more leaks.

The man charged with representing DCOR’s case in Washington, Chris Jones, has a history of working with high-powered interests, having previously lobbied for Facebook, Alibaba and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has previously served in prominent positions for Reps. John Myers (R-Ind.), Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) and David McIntosh (R-Ind.).

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