City Council votes to phase out oil drilling

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The City Council has voted unanimously to phase out oil drilling in the city, approving an ordinance that bans new oil and gas extraction.

The council voted 12-0 Dec. 2 for the ordinance, which amends the municipal code to make existing extraction activities a nonconforming use in all zones.

“This may be the most important step towards environmental justice that this council has taken in recent memory,” Council President Paul Krekorian said.

The county Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance in October. The City Council last January unanimously approved a series of recommendations aimed at banning new oil and gas wells.

The city ordinance phases out all such oil and gas extraction activities by banning new oil and gas extraction and ceasing existing operations within 20 years. Operators would not be able to expand their existing sites or extend the life of a well during the 20-year phase-out period.

Many community groups have lobbied Los Angeles to stop oil drilling, citing the harm it has on communities that is disproportionately felt in working-class communities and communities of color. More than 500,000 Los Angeles County residents live within a half-mile of an active oil well.

Krekorian responded to concerns over a potential loss of jobs and an increase in gas prices by stating that less than 1% of crude oil processed in Southern California refineries actually comes from wells in Los Angeles and the loss of oil drilling will not impact gas prices locally. On jobs, Krekorian said he believes the era of oil and gas is ending regardless.

“What happens very often is the profiteers of the oil and gas companies will use their mistreated workforce as a way to try to push back on policymakers,” Krekorian said at a briefing following the meeting. “They will try to use a fake, false untruthful argument about impacts on gasoline prices.”

Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, a coalition of environmental justice groups, held a briefing before the council meeting outside City Hall but did not take part in public comment during the meeting, showing solidarity with protesters demanding that Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resign for their role in the City Hall racism scandal.

Several council members credited the coalition for its sustained efforts in creating support for the ordinance.

“This group worked tirelessly,” Councilman Mike Bonin said. “They went to almost every neighborhood council throughout the city. They spoke to churches. They spoke to neighbors. They spoke to council members. They spoke to staff members countless times.

“They are the real godfathers and godmothers of this [ordinance]. This was born from people power, organizing and saying ‘This is what we need.’”

Tianna Shaw-Wakeman, environmental justice program lead for Black Women for Wellness, called the vote a “massive and long-fought win” nearly a decade in the making, but said the coalition did not ask for the vote to move forward.

“The neighborhood oil and gas drilling that has been ravaging our Black, brown and often disinvested communities for generations exists because of the same kind of racism and corruption we all heard on that recording,” Shaw-Wakeman said.

Shaw-Wakeman added that council members may be “quick to pat themselves on the back,” but the effort was “not because of them.”

“It is because of and for communities,” Shaw-Wakeman said.

Anahi Montoya, a resident of Wilmington and a member of Communities for a Better Environment, said that she grew up seeing refineries, diesel trucks and oil drilling sites around her neighborhood. They reminded her that “the attack on my health was premeditated and sinister, down to the dirty oil donations.”

The phase-out of oil drilling allows her community to live without constant migraines, nosebleeds and lung-health issues, according to Montoya.

“This is not only about protecting the lives of my community and healing the hurt that years of discriminatory redlining has caused,” Montoya said. “This is about protecting Black, brown and indigenous youth of color that are growing up in frontline communities just like I did.”

There are more than 5,000 oil and gas wells in Los Angeles — some of them idle — and 26 oil and gas fields, according to the city’s planning department.

Warren Resources, one of the companies which operates oil wells in the area, opposed the ordinance. James A. Watt, the company’s president, said in a statement that Warren intends to “use all available legal resources to protect our major investment from this unlawful taking” and claimed that pollution from its operations was “on par with that of a fast-food restaurant.”

“Warren has demonstrated to the City Council and all other regulatory authorities that we are not an environmentally significant pollution source for the community,” Watt said.

Watt added that the company has a contract with the city to consolidate its operations into one site and eliminate individual wells “over time.” Warren has also agreed to use electricity for its operations rather than diesel, Watt said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed new rules in October, under which new oil wells or drilling facilities in California would have to be at least 3,200 feet from homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other “sensitive locations.”

Newsom cited the impact that toxic chemicals have on communities, including asthma and birth defects. The proposal is undergoing an economic analysis and public comment before taking effect. The governor has also called for a statewide phase-out of oil extraction by 2045.

A USC study published in April linked living by urban oil wells with wheezing and reduced lung function — symptoms disproportionately borne by people of color in Los Angeles.

In some cases, the respiratory harm rivals that of daily exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke or living beside highways spewing auto exhaust, the researchers found. The study focused on drilling sites in two South L.A. neighborhoods — Jefferson Park and North University Park — yet could have implications elsewhere in the region.

“We’re sending a clear message to big oil: The city of Los Angeles is moving into a new era with this vote today, and we will no longer tolerate oil and gas extraction,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said. “No matter where people live, everyone deserves to breathe clean air, drink uncontaminated water and live in safe, healthy neighborhoods.”