Oil and gas Legislation

California law on oil company records worries public activists

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Photo: Ð?авел Ð?Ñ?Ñ?маÑ?Ñ?ев/iStock/Thinkstock

Sacramento, CA – A new California law intended to improve the state’s access to petroleum companies’ safety records has drawn the ire of some free-speech activists, who claim employers can use the law to limit public access to certain documents.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Sept. 20 signed the legislation into law. The law requires petroleum companies to release a schedule of planned “turnarounds,” which are refinery or plant shutdowns for maintenance, overhaul and repair operations. Employers must disclose these annual plans by Sept. 15, 2015, and then every Sept. 15 in subsequent years.

Supporters of the law claim it will help improve safety, as turnarounds are considered a dangerous time in the refinery process and regulators previously had no access to employers’ turnaround information.

However, a provision in the law allows oil companies to designate “virtually any information” as a trade secret and allow them to deny Public Record Act requests, according to a press release from the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael, CA-based nonprofit advocacy group. The coalition unsuccessfully urged Brown to veto the bill in a Sept. 17 letter.

State Sen. Loni Hancock (D), who introduced the bill in February, said the legislation “does not expand or extend the definition of trade secrets beyond turnarounds,” and stated she will “closely monitor” its implementation to see if adjustments need to be made.