The climate crisis affects us all. But it’s hurting some of us more than others.
Today in California, 2.7 million people live within a couple thousand feet of a polluting oil or gas well. The impacts are frightening. For those who live close to these operations, asthma is increasingly the norm; cancer-risk rates are off the charts; and many residents experience migraines, headaches and rashes on the daily.
Take Nalleli Cobo of South Los Angeles. When she was 9 years old, Cobo started getting nosebleeds. After noticing unbearable smells coming from the oil well across the street from her family’s home, she went door-to-door to ask her neighbors if they smelled it, too. She soon had more questions, like why was everyone in her neighborhood so sick, with eerily similar symptoms?
Cobo quickly learned the health crisis in South LA was not an isolated incident—low-income Latino and Black communities like hers across California and the US had similar stories. These communities, referred to by outsiders as “sacrifice zones,” are far more likely to live near active, intensive oil or gas wells.
Shortly after her visits with neighbors, Cobo became a full-time youth activist and joined an environmental justice coalition, Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling L.A. (STAND-L.A.) The coalition called for city- and state-wide bans on new oil and gas wells next to places where communities like hers played, lived, and worshipped. As she organized her community, though, she fell more ill, with heart palpitations and chronic headaches. When she was 19 years old—10 years after her first nosebleed—she was diagnosed with cancer.
In 2022, STAND-L.A., along with several other coalitions, won their demands. Senate Bill 1137 (SB-1137) was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom, establishing a ban on new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of “sensitive receptors,” like homes, schools, hospitals, and houses of worship, and ensuring stricter health and safety standards for existing wells. “When I heard the law had passed, I started crying. I was overcome with a sense of joy and strength,” Cobo recalls. “I felt like I could breathe again for the first time in years.”
Predictably, Big Oil immediately plotted to reverse the law. And that brings us to 2024. A handful of major fossil fuel companies, under the banner of “Stop the Energy Shutdown,” have successfully funded a ballot referendum that will require Californians to vote in support of SB-1137 this November for it to go into effect. In simplest terms, a few oil and gas companies are trying to pause on SB-1137 and potentially reverse it.
The Sacramento-based California Independent for Petroleum Association (CIPA) initiated this “veto referendum” last year and funded a massive $20 million campaign to get enough signatures to place it on California’s 2024 general election ballot. CIPA, along with Western States Petroleum Association, is now funneling millions more to fossil-fuel-funded interest groups to sway voters against SB-1137. (To learn more about these dark money operatives, check out this report.)
The outcome of this fight will hit close to home. Ventura, California, where our company is headquartered, is the state’s third largest oil producing county, and more than 8,000 of the residents, the majority of them Latino, live within 2,600 feet of an oil well.
Moments like these are why Patagonia’s founders donated ownership of the company to a purpose trust and the Holdfast Collective in 2022: So, when we see an urgent need in the environmental movement, we can step up and better meet it.
This election cycle, the Holdfast Collective, the nonprofit that distributes Patagonia’s profits to environmental causes, is giving $500,000 to our grassroots partners at the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California to ensure SB-1137 goes into full effect. As it was always intended to.
“Neighborhood drilling has plagued frontline California communities for nearly a century and is a huge barrier to climate action,” says Greg Curtis, executive director of the Holdfast Collective. “We’re proud to get behind the frontline organizers who’ve fought for so long to legalize basic human rights to clean air and clean water.”
Across California, most voters support this common-sense law, but a handful of corporate interests are spending millions to reverse it through insidious tactics. Patagonia’s donation will go directly to a coalition of public health professionals, environmental justice groups, and community and faith leaders fighting to keep the law in place.
“Big Oil’s deceptive campaign to try and undermine a new law protecting communities against toxic oil drilling is shameful, and they will stop at nothing to protect their bottom line,” says Darryl Molina Sarmiento, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, a co-founding coalition member of STAND L.A. and the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California. “That’s why our broad and diverse coalition, including youth and working families living next to neighborhood oil drilling, will work every day until the election to ensure that Californians vote to keep the law that establishes a 3,200-foot buffer zone from homes, schools and hospitals in place.”
Banning new oil and gas wells in residential neighborhoods, and making existing wells safer, is the bare minimum needed to transition our society away from fossil fuels. “Stop the Energy Shutdown” is just one player in a more complex machine that is the fossil fuel industry—one that will turn a profit at the expense of all people, while targeting those who happen to be born in a certain zip code. For now, there’s no way out of the climate crisis but for us to join forces and fight together for everyone’s right to a clean environment. And while we’re at it: stand up to Big Oil in the process.
Today, Cobo is cancer-free. But she’s still fighting the same fight. SB-1137 needs to remain law. Otherwise, more kids like her might have the same fate.
You can help keep SB-1137 law by showing support for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California. And, if you live in California, remember to register to vote and show up at the polls in November.
Keep the Law
Support the campaign to stop neighborhood oil drilling.