07 Sep Residents Challenge Harmful Oil Drilling
By Bob Wing
Oil has been a source of tremendous wealth for Los Angeles, but the city’s 1,071 active oil wells also pose serious health risks for the nearly 628,000 Angelenos who live near them. That’s why residents and environmental justice organizations are calling for tougher regulations for the oil industry.
Three-quarters of Los Angeles residents who live within 1,500 feet of oil drilling sites are people of color, according to Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-LA). The coalition of environmental justice groups claims that “neighborhood drilling is fundamentally a matter of racial and economic justice.”
Oil operations release toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide gas. As these chemicals are pumped into the air, nearby residents suffer from headaches, respiratory illnesses, asthma, nausea, nosebleeds and increased cancer risk. These effects are magnified among children.
Health risks are heightened by the city’s population density, and worse in communities of color that already suffer serious health, environmental and economic problems.
“Our family calendars were filled with my daughter’s appointments with cardiologists and neurologists who never could agree on the source of her symptoms. We knew the source was [the oil Residents Challenge Harmful Oil Drilling company] AllenCo,” said Monic Uriarte, a resident of University Park in South L.A.
‘L.A. has 1,071 active oil wells which harm the health of nearly 628,000 Angelenos who live near them.’
AllenCo has 21 active wells just 30 feet from homes on W. 23rd Street’s 800 block in the University Park neighborhood.
In July, residents won an important victory. AllenCo was forced to pay $1.25 million for sickening residents of University Park and required to install a new monitoring system before reopening.
Half of the penalty money will fund future investigations into other oilfields endangering Los Angeles communities.
Later that month Redeemer Community Partnership & Earthjustice filed an unprecedented nuisance abatement petition with the city against Freeport- McMoRan’s oil site at Jefferson Boulevard near Vermont in South L.A. The petition seeks city enforcement of existing rules and requires new health and safety protections equal to those the Planning Department has extended to wealthier, whiter West L.A. neighborhoods.
“While workers wear full protective gear on one side of the fence, residents on the other side have no notification that toxic chemicals are pumped underneath their homes,” said Richard Parks of Redeemer Community Partnership.
The Jefferson Drill Site includes 29 active wells just a few feet from homes at the 1300 block on Jefferson Boulevard.
STAND-LA is calling on the city to enact a 1,500 foot human health and safety buffer around all oil extraction activities. The coalition says that there are “130 Los Angeles schools, 184 daycare facilities and 213 elderly homes within half mile of an active oil well” where scientists say health risks are most pronounced.
It recently worked with polling firm FM3 to survey public opinion on neighborhood drilling. Of 1,200 likely voters in the Los Angeles, 71 percent of respondents supported a 1,500 foot health and safety buffer.
“No one should have to endure [oil wells] in their neighborhood,” says Eddie Ko who lives near the Jefferson Drill Site.