County supervisors vote to phase out oil drilling

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors has voted to begin the process of phasing out oil drilling on unincorporated Los Angeles County land, including the Inglewood Oil Field.

The board approved two companion motions led by Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell with co-authorship from Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn.

There are more than 1,600 wells in unincorporated Los Angeles County. The Inglewood Oil Field, located adjacent to Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, both predominately African American neighborhoods, comprises one of the largest urban oil fields in the country.

The vote puts the county on the path to being the first in the country to ban and phase out existing drilling. The board also voted to create a program to ensure that wells are properly closed and cleaned up, and to expand the county’s task force focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities, leading the way for Los Angeles County being the first in the nation to ban existing oil drilling and transition fossil fuel workers to family sustaining careers in clean energy and other climate-friendly industries.

“We have an opportunity and responsibility as the home of the largest urban oil field in the nation to lead by example in creating an equitable path for phasing out oil drilling,” Mitchell said. “Collectively, the motions that passed center the needs of the communities and workers most impacted by oil drilling and build on L.A. County’s momentum in fighting climate change and sunsetting oil and gas operations.

“I applaud the board for continuing to move the county forward on this critical issue and the countless advocates that have helped get us to this point. Our work is far from done but this is a promising step for environmental justice.”

Supervisor Hahn also voiced her support of the measures.

“So far, we have identified 637 idle oil wells across the county and 128 of these are considered ‘high priority’ which means they are close to homes or at risk of leaking,” Hahn said. “Many of these wells have been sitting idle for years.

“As we move to phase out oil and gas drilling in our unincorporated communities, we also need to make sure the abandoned and idle wells that already exist in our county are properly plugged … so they don’t pose a threat to our communities,” she added.

The Inglewood Oil Field has long been a contentious issue with residents living in Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, who have complained for decades of persistent health issues caused by chemicals produced by the oil and released into the air and water.

More than one million people live within five miles of the oil field boundaries and toxic chemicals have reportedly been released during drilling, storage and transmission. Chemicals such as methane, benzene, toluene, nitrogen oxides and ethylbenzene have caused birth defects, increased rates of heart disease and cancer. It is reported that there are four times as many asthma related emergency room visits in the Baldwin Hills region when compared to the rest of the country.

Another concern for residents is that the oil wells also continuously pump near playgrounds, schools and homes.

“Urban oil drilling isn’t safe,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “People who live near active oil wells suffer high rates of asthma, with an even greater impact on people’s lungs than living next to a freeway.

“For the health and well-being of our families and children, we need to end this practice as soon as possible. This motion gets us one step closer to that goal.”

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at