Los Angeles City Council Votes to Ban New City Oil and Gas Drilling in Historic Move | Los Angeles

Though Los Angeles is better known as the home of Hollywood, it was built on oil. More than 5,200 oil and gas wells dot the city, making it one of the largest urban oil fields in the country.

But on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to halt drilling in the city, a move environmental justice advocates have been working towards for years.

The city will now proceed to draft an ordinance banning new drilling and looking at how to close operating wells across the city. Officials will also launch an analysis of the economic and employment implications and how oil industry workers can be transitioned to clean energy jobs. Shutting down existing oil operations also requires a payback study on how oil companies can pay back their investments if they haven’t already.

“From Wilmington to the San Fernando Valley, gas, drilling and oil wells have disproportionately impacted the health of our working-class neighborhoods,” Council Chair Nury Martinez said. “This is another example of how frontline communities are disproportionately bearing the impacts of pollution and climate change.”

Calling the move one of the strongest actions across the country, she said, “Los Angles is a city that is constantly moving forward and today wants to remind everyone that the City Council prioritizes the health and well-being of every Angeleno.”

Other members echoed their views and expressed their strong support for moving away from fossil fuel development. Many of them paid tribute to Stand LA, a coalition of environmental justice organizations formed in 2013 that for years has organized around the issue and highlighted the devastating effects of drilling on local residents.

Nearly a third of Los Angeles’ oil and gas wells lie off-site, scattered among homes, schools and parks, noted Vince Bertoni, the city’s director of planning, citing data from California’s Department of Geological Energy Management in a letter to the council last September.

Thousands of residents live in close proximity to wells, but the toxic effects are not evenly distributed, with less affluent Angelenos and people of color bearing the brunt of their environmental impacts. A number of studies have shown the public health impact the drilling may have, including higher rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of low birth weight babies and other reproductive health problems.

In a paper published last year, researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) found that South LA residents — mostly black and Hispanic families — who live near active oil production have lower lung function. Inadequate lung capacity “may contribute to environmental health disparities,” the researchers said, comparing the health effects to daily exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.

The disused well sites also pose health and environmental hazards. Abandoned wells around the city still emit toxic gases, according to a 2020 LA Times investigation.

“In this community-driven research, we found that living near oil fields is associated with lower lung function,” said researcher Jill Johnston, assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, in a statement and added that “these environmental justice impacts give rise to the impact of urban oil drilling.”

Oil industry officials criticized the move, citing the potential for negative economic impacts on the city and the 8,300 jobs associated with the extraction and development.

“Shutting down domestic energy production not only puts Californians out of work and lowers the taxes paid on essential services, but also makes us more dependent on imported foreign oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq to fuel LA’s crowded port says Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, noting that California crude is more regulated than imports. He also questioned the city’s ability to legally move forward with the plan. “The stealing of property without compensation, especially properly permitted and highly regulated property, is illegal and violates the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution Against Illegal Search and Seizure,” he said.

Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, emphasized the economic impact the decision will have on the city.

“We understand the implications very well [the ordinance] on Los Angeles County, its economy and the workers of our industry,” Slagle told the LA Daily News before the decision, adding that they have taken safety measures to limit the public health impact on the community. “A lot of our own workers and people live, play and go to school in the same places,” Slagle said. “We are definitely following these studies. We conduct our own health impact studies and do our best to mitigate, understand and address all types of health concerns arising from our operations.”

The Western States Petroleum Association could not be reached for further comment after the pre-release vote.

The city’s decision follows a separate motion by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which voted unanimously last September to halt drilling in unincorporated areas for similar reasons. Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who authored two motions on the issue, said that of the tens of thousands of people living near drill sites, nearly 73% are black. Mitchell is responsible for the Inglewood oil field, a site that has produced an average of up to 3.1 billion barrels per year over the past decade.

“In addition to this equity issue that should affect us all, oil and gas drilling is contributing to the climate crisis that we are collectively witnessing every day,” Mitchell told the LA Times in September.

The state of California is also moving forward with new rules requiring drilling to be at least 3,200 feet from “sensitive locations,” which include homes, schools and hospitals. State officials are now conducting a comprehensive economic analysis of the proposal. The plan, praised by environmental justice advocates, has been criticized for allowing existing wells to continue operating and only applying to new developments. The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Geological Energy Management found that about 30% of the state’s production occurs within the 3,200-foot threshold.

Los Angeles plans to go even further.

“It’s been a long drudgery,” Councilor Paul Koretz said during the meeting, highlighting how drilling in his district has harmed residents. “This effort is over 100 years overdue – and it’s about time.”

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