For years, STAND-LA has been voicing community concerns about the clear health and safety threat of neighborhood drilling to Angelenos. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health finally admits these risks are real in a recent report. See how residents in these communities bear the brunt of these costs, and how city and county leaders have a responsibility to put an end to oil facilities in our neighborhoods.
With national attention centered on the Trump administration’s reckless decision to open up our shores to oil and gas drilling, it’s important we don’t forget what is happening in our own neighborhoods. Los Angeles is home to the largest urban oil field in the country. In L.A. County, thousands of active oil wells live among 10 million people, yielding approximately 28 million barrels per year while bringing severe public health risks, toxic pollution, noxious odors, noise pollution and the ever present threat of accident or spill to residents.
A recent report by the Department of Public Health revealed that the county is not doing enough to keep people who live alongside oil wells safe. “This confirms what communities in South Los Angeles and Wilmington have known for a long time from their own personal experience… Wells operating within neighborhoods have a clear health and safety threat,” said Martha Dina Argüello, the head of Physicians for Social Responsibility in this KPCC report.
As the City of Los Angeles looks to lead on climate, attention must turn to the communities that have paid a price for decades — and continue to do so — for the city’s wealth and development driven by oil production in their backyards.
Severe Public Health Impacts
Profound health impacts plague residents that live within the radius of drilling sites. Reports of nosebleeds, nausea, respiratory illness and dizziness are notable, while disruptive diesel trucks, noxious odors and noise levels burden their streets. Fears of explosions, spills, leaks and hazardous incidents — well founded as experienced by Porter Ranch — are omnipresent. Many of these sites are in designated Environmental Justice neighborhoods, characterized by a residential population with high proportions of poor and unemployed, low educational attainment, high percentage of non-English speakers, high levels of certain health impacts, and people who also experience greater exposure to environmental hazards as compared to the general population.
Oil Drilling by Neighborhood
Our friends at STAND L.A., a coalition of community groups seeking an end to neighborhood drilling to protect the health and safety of Angelenos on the front lines of urban oil extraction, have a rundown on drilling sites in L.A. — and the community voices that have fought against them for years. Here are a sampling:
Allenco Drill Site, University Park
A mere 30 feet from homes, neighboring residents faced years of health problems. Respiratory disease, nosebleeds, headaches and nausea were reported, and yet it took three years for EPA investigators to visit the site. In 2013, EPA officers were immediately sickened by fumes during an inspection requested by Senator Barbara Boxer, and the site was shut down with requirements for stricter air monitoring and a $1.25 million civil penalty. Recently, AllenCo Energy has been in talks of reopening its facility, causing renewed community voices to come out in opposition of the site.
Jefferson Drill Site, Historic West Adams
Operating 3 feet from its nearest home, 33 active wells threaten the wellbeing of families and children in this residential area. No Environmental Impact Report has ever been recorded at the site, leaving residents exposed to toxic chemicals right next door. When site operators Freeport-McMoRan applied to drill around the clock 24/7, they attempted to waive any public hearings to do so. When the hearings were mandated, record turnout by the community blocked the move.
Murphy Drill Site, Historic West Adams
16,000 people reside within a half-mile radius of this site that operates 24 hours a day. After residents complained of a sulfuric odor near their homes, the South Coast Air Quality Management Air District found a natural gas leak at 400 percent the allowable limit. Despite this, the site still has no emergency plan in place noted by local fire chiefs.
Warren E&P Drill Site, Wilmington
Parts of Wilmington rank among the top 5% of communities with the highest pollution exposure in the state, while cancer risks in this neighborhood are nearly twice as high as the standard cancer risk associated to air pollution. 24 hours a day of drilling mean, alongside health impacts, are constant noise pollution, foul odors, dirt and dust.
Inglewood Oil Field Drill Site, Baldwin Hills/Culver City
The largest urban oil field in the country is the home to 959 active wells and 50,000 adjacent households. With deep wells and hydraulic fracturing for enhanced oil recovery, residents surrounding the Inglewood Oil Field (IOF) cite health risks, odor complaints, problematic noise levels and concerns that cracks in their foundations might be caused by the oil field.
Recently, SoCal 350 joined a long list of organizations across California to call on the City of Culver City to reject the proposed Specific Plan for the Inglewood Oil Field. Ongoing oil drilling and production in the IOF threatens the health and environment of surrounding communities due to trucked-in toxic chemicals used at the site and the fracking happening that has potential seismic consequences.
Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, Porter Ranch
Aliso Canyon, the second-largest natural gas storage site in the western U.S., is one mile from the suburban community of Porter Ranch. Though the drilling is happening elsewhere, Aliso Canyon represents some of the same health and safety threats to surrounding neighborhoods.
In late 2015, a cloud of methane enveloped the neighborhood, leading to reports of rotten egg odor, headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and other symptoms. In what became the worst natural gas leak in the U.S., four months of inaction saw over 11,000 people temporarily relocated by SoCal Gas. The gas leak was plugged on February 18, 2016, but not before 100,000 tons of methane had been released into the atmosphere. Since then, residents have returned to their homes. Two years later, a comprehensive county health study on long-term impacts has been held up by funding, a report found potential “catastrophic” consequences in the event of a major earthquake, and yet SoCal Gas has resumed activity — with approval by state regulators — despite a flurry of lawsuits and community protests.
End Neighborhood Drilling for a Safer, Healthier City
In a powerful report by Liberty Hill, Drilling Down: The Community Consequences of Expanded Oil Development in Los Angeles looks at the severe impacts and community response by residents surrounding 5 drilling sites. The report also makes policy recommendations for the city to consider prevention and public health impact mitigation.
Prohibiting oil drilling and production within buffer zones to keep communities healthy and safe is key. Establishing moratoriums, interim control ordinances and bans on hydraulic fracturing and well stimulation techniques, as well as expanding the role and authority for public health analysis in the permitting process, are recommended in the report.
To mitigate public health impacts, stronger performance standards for special oil districts are called for, as well as comprehensive inspection, monitoring and enforcement. Transparency, information access and public engagement are also important to hold companies accountable.
Limiting oil production could also help the state of California meet its climate goals, a study published in the Stockholm Environment Institute found. Despite ambitious promises of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the state will have to go beyond existing action to achieve Paris Agreement goals. This study found that “restricting California oil production would likely decrease global GHG emissions by an amount similar to other key policies in the state’s recently adopted climate Scoping Plan.” Recommendations include focusing on regions of oil production where co-benefits, such as environmental justice, are greatest.
Next Steps for the City
Once the L.A. City Petroleum Administrator completes a comprehensive report (including the Department of Public Health findings), the issue will return to City Council, likely being heard at 1) the Health Committee; 2) the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee; 3) Planning and Land Use Committee. Sign up for our newsletter to stay tuned on actions you can take to put an end to neighborhood drilling.
Share your stories with us
Have you experienced the impacts of neighborhood drilling? Share your story with us on Facebook, and come out to our general meetings on the third Sunday of each month to help build a more just and healthy world. Our next meeting is Sunday, March 18th at 3pm, details and RSVP here.