LA County to close miles of urban oil fields
Los Angeles County has taken a step towards a complete ban on oil and gas production within its borders after the supervisory board unanimously approved a motion on Wednesday to phase it out on unincorporated land. It is the largest urban area in the country to declare such a ban, which will affect more than a thousand active wells.
County supervisor Holly Mitchell co-wrote the motion, which cites a growing body of research linking proximity to oil production wells and health issues, including low birth weight, cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems. During the board meeting, Mitchell said nearly 73% of county residents living near the wells are people of color.
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In introducing the motion, she also noted the broader implications for the climate.
“Oil and gas drilling is contributing to the climate crisis, which we see every day,” Mitchell said. A recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that humanity has “a short window of time to reduce our fossil emissions in order to avoid a worse fate for future generations”, Mitchell added.
The board also passed a second motion directing the county to implement the recommendations of its task force on the just transition to clean energy, including a more in-depth study of how oil and gas workers County gas would be affected. About 30,000 people work in the county’s oil fields, although not all of them live in the county.
In passing the motion, which designates existing oil and gas wells as no longer valid under current zoning law, the county tasked land use planning director Amy Bodek to report in 120 days how it will hire an expert to conduct a depreciation study of drilling sites in unincorporated parts of the county to reduce them. Depreciation means that oil companies would be allowed to offset at least part of their investments in prohibited wells.
In 2019, more than 500,000 LA County residents lived within a quarter of a mile of an active oil drilling site.
Last year, the county discovered there were 1,046 active wells, 637 inactive wells and 2,731 abandoned wells in unincorporated areas. There are thousands more in the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach and elsewhere; a county attorney could not confirm whether the ban would apply to wells in incorporated areas.
Parts of at least two dozen active oil fields that straddle unincorporated areas will be affected by the ban.
It’s also the completely opposite approach to that of Kern County, which voted earlier this year to broadly approve any new oil and gas development. Most of the state’s oil and gas is produced there, with Los Angeles County lagging far behind.
In 2019, more than 500,000 LA County residents lived within a quarter of a mile of an active oil drilling site. In addition to the more than 1,000 active wells in the county, hundreds of other unused wells, which can leak carcinogens, can be found near homes, schools and hospitals at a distance associated with illness in children. neighboring residents.
Among them is Wendy Miranda, who lives in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles with her family. Wilmington’s oil field is the county’s most productive, although wells are unaffected by county action.
Miranda loved running in high school but has since developed asthma, something she says may have been linked to two inactive oil wells near her home, although she was also exposed to pollution from oil refineries, traffic pollution and diesel fumes from heavy trucks.
Her mother has to use a nebulizer several times a day, and many of her friends grew up with asthma.
“Now I have to carry my inhaler with me all the time,” says Miranda, a graduate student studying public health and human planning at UCLA and an intern at Communities for a Better Environment. “A lot of the unincorporated areas in the county are communities like Wilmington, people who are facing the same impacts.”
Inglewood Oil Field straddles the county and Culver City, which voted in July to phase out oil production. The county’s move now means the entire field is slated for a shutdown.
Miranda’s personal observations are supported by a recently published study by researchers at the University of Southern California which suggests that living near urban oil drilling sites with active and inactive wells is significantly associated with reduced lung function in southern Los Angeles.
The vote of the supervisory board represents another blow to the local influence of the industry. Production in the Los Angeles Basin fell 18.8% between 2006 and 2016, according to a city report. Yet there were still 68 active oil fields in the county as of 2018.
Among them is the Inglewood oil field. It is managed by Sentinel Peak Resources and produced nearly 1.9 million barrels of oil in 2019. The field straddles County and Culver City, which in July voted to phase out oil production on its part of the field; the county’s move now means the entire field is slated for a shutdown.
In April, a pipeline owned by another company, E&B Natural Resources, spilled over 1,600 gallons of oil into the Inglewood field. The cleanup was swift, but environmentalists took the spill as an example of the industry’s clear and direct damage to surrounding communities.
The spill also drew attention to powerful industry players with ties to the county. E&B Natural Resources CEO Steve Layton is the chairman of the board of the California Independent Petroleum Association, one of the state’s two oil lobby groups. And Jeremy Vanderziel, who worked as a coastal asset manager for Sentinel Peak Resources, sits on CIPA’s executive committee.
The lobby group recently declared bankruptcy after a judge forced it to pay more than $ 2 million in legal fees to environmental groups and the city of Los Angeles. The two had reached an agreement that included stricter rules on drilling for oil near homes in places like southern Los Angeles and Wilmington. CIPA then sued both the city and environmental groups, arguing that its members’ due process rights had been violated.
“We see this as a local air pollution problem that has long-term climate impacts, because we know that to deal with the climate crisis, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. “
~ Martha Argüello, co-chair of the STAND-LA Coalition
In a statement, CIPA CEO Rock Zierman defended the group’s lawsuits and said attorneys’ fees cost more than its annual operating budget. He also criticized the county’s oil ban and predicted that California would import more oil from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Ecuador due to demand from refineries.
“Foreign production is unregulated, extremely polluting and dangerous to our environment,” Zierman wrote in a letter on behalf of CIPA submitted to the county ahead of the board vote.
Martha Argüello, environmentalist, co-chair of the STAND-LA Coalition and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, says she expects industry to fight back against the county’s vote, but these threats are pale compared to to those posed by climate change. .
“We see this as a local air pollution problem that has long term climate impacts because we know that to deal with the climate crisis we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and have a just transition for workers from these industries, ”she said.
The Argüello group has been lobbying the city of Los Angeles for years to enact an oil production ban. Last December, the city’s energy, climate change and environmental justice committee voted to send such a motion to city council for a full vote.
Many members of the city council are in favor of the idea. Seven of them sent a letter to county supervisors ahead of Wednesday’s vote, urging them to support the motions.
“The city of Los Angeles is on a parallel track as we prepare for our own fossil-free future,” the advisers wrote. “We expect the city council as a whole to adopt the committee’s recommendations later this year and declare oil and gas extraction as improper use in all areas of the city, ending all new oil and gas drilling. ”
If approved, the city expects a 20-year payback period, according to Argüello, who is asking for five. The county did not respond at time of publication to a question about the length of its amortization period in unincorporated areas.
Copyright 2021 Capital & Main.
Ingrid Lobet contributed to this report.