Residents fight oil drilling in Los Angeles neighborhood

Los Angeles residents and environmental advocates are decrying state officials’ decision to allow new oil drilling in the vicinity of their Port area, saying the decision is based in part on documents expiration of the city.

In the latest announcement about oil exploration in Los Angeles – the nation’s largest urban oil field – Wilmington residents accused Warren E&P of evading proper environmental review. They are asking city officials to block the construction of up to six new state-approved wells.

“We are surrounded by industries that are polluting our communities and have polluters right next to our homes, schools and parks,” resident Nizgui Gomez told reporters. member recently as she stood next to a community baseball diamond owned by Warren. “When I rode my bike near this baseball field behind my back and saw kids exercising next to the oil drilling activities, which literally could be smelled, I thought about how dangerous it is to people. their health.”

State officials’ approval of new wells not only angered Gomez and other residents, but also raised questions about why state officials were issuing permits based on outdated documentation and whether the approval was valid. or not.

For its part, parent company Warren Resources Inc. said to the best of its knowledge, it has complied with all city and state requirements governing its operations in Wilmington. “Warren has not drilled any new wells since 2018 in Wilmington, and all previously drilled wells were performed with the knowledge and approval of the City,” said Jessica Bradley, company spokeswoman. write.

Warren, who has pumped oil in the vicinity since 1999, applied for 19 drilling permits with the California Department of Conservation, the state’s oil and gas regulator, between December 2018 and December. 2021, according to state records obtained by Community for a Better Environment. , an environmental nonprofit campaigning against urban oil drilling in Los Angeles.

However, Warren applied for a permit with the city’s approval recently expiring, making it appear the city has signed off on plans to dig new wells and deepen some of the company’s other wells. The California Department of Geological Energy Management — a division of the state conservation department known as CalGEM — approved 14 of those drilling permits.

It is not clear why CalGEM is issuing licenses with outdated paperwork or the current status of these licenses. A spokesperson for the state conservation agency said the agency is reviewing the company’s documents.

The documents were issued in 2006, when Warren received approval from the Los Angeles area management to drill 540 new wells over 12 years, as long as the company complied with the conditions laid out in a review. Environmental rates approved by the city.

Warren thinks there is no expiration date for those approvals. However, the City Planning Department and environmental groups argue that those rights lapsed in August 2018 and that a new environmental assessment and city approval for the new wells are required. That process will include an environmental impact assessment, public notice and public hearing.

Instead, Warren was allowed to skip that process, opponents say.

“It’s hard to guess what could have happened,” said Alison Hahm, attorney for Community for a Better Environment. “In the best case scenario for the communities, it is possible that drilling would have been denied. Or it may be necessary to have a real environmental assessment, a close assessment of all expected impacts, and really robust mitigation measures to offset those impacts. ”

The city will hold a public hearing to determine what actions can be taken to meet state approval, although it has yet to be scheduled.

The controversy comes at a time when city officials have announced they will phase out well drilling in the vicinity and the state has taken steps toward banning new wells within 3,200 feet of homes. housing and school. The restrictions come after decades of health complaints from residents living near the mining sites.

Among the air pollutants commonly associated with oil extraction is benzene, a carcinogen commonly used in drilling fluids; and hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas with a pungent odor and particulate pollution that has been linked to serious respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

“Thousands of pounds of chemicals are used to drill, mine, rework and convert,” said Bahram Fazeli, research and policy director at Communities for a Better Environment. “This is not an operation without impact. Oil drilling is an inherently unsafe activity.”

At a news conference Wednesday, dozens of community members and environmental activists gathered outside Warren’s Wilmington oil field to condemn flaws in the licensing process. US Representative Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) joined the chorus of critics, calling the approval “a failure of the system.”

“There is a need for total accountability,” says Barragán. “How did someone join this community and be allowed to do this? And it continued without some immediate action to stop it. ”

A predominantly Latino community, Wilmington is a heavily industrialized area with many refineries and hundreds of oil wells located just north of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Some residents told reporters they developed asthma and suffered from chronic, allergy-like symptoms – illnesses they suspected had something to do with the surrounding industry.

Gomez said, growing up in Wilmington, she suffered from headaches and nosebleeds.

“As we grew up, we saw and smelled these oil operations all over our city and didn’t think twice about the impacts on our health. Now we can’t even smell them anymore,” said Gomez.

Other residents, such as Carlos and Guadalupe Diaz, expressed frustration at what they see as a lack of government oversight.

The couple have lived one block north of Warren’s oilfield since 1990, and say they have endured toxic smoke from the wellhead, tremors so strong that they broke windows and layers of dust. Dirt accumulates on cars and window sills.

Carlos Diaz said: “I am worried about the health of my family. “We hope those in charge of public health will protect us.”

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-06-03/residents-fight-oil-drilling-in-los-angeles-neighborhood Residents fight oil drilling in Los Angeles neighborhood

Edmund DeMarche

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