Los Angeles bans new oil and gas wells, will phase out old ones

A view of the Marathon Petroleum Corps Los Angeles refinery in Carson, California, April 25, 2020.

Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to ban new oil and gas wells and to phase out existing wells over a period of five years after decades of complaints from residents who have struggled with health problems from living near drilling rigs.

The measure, introduced by councilors Nury Martinez and Paul Krekorian in December 2020, is part of a broader push by the county and the state of California to establish more distance between drilling and humans and transition away from climate-changing fossil fuels.

The region includes one of the largest urban oil fields in the country with more than 5,000 active wells in LA County and more than 1,000 active or vacant wells within the city limits. More than half a million people in LA live within a quarter mile of active wells that release air pollutants such as benzene, hydrogen sulfide, particles and formaldehyde, and the pollution affects disproportionately many blacks and Latino residents.

“Today, we are stepping up our commitment to environmental justice,” Martinez said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

“For far too long, drilling in the neighborhood has disproportionately affected the health of our colored low-income communities,” Martinez said. “From highways to power plants, our frontline society bears the brunt of pollution and climate impacts.”

Research shows that people living near oil and gas drilling sites are at greater risk for premature births, asthma, respiratory diseases and cancer. Living close to wells is also associated with impaired lung function and wheezing, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research.

“This is not just a matter of public health and safety … it’s also a matter of justice,” Jasmin Vargas, a senior organizer at the non-profit Food & Water Watch, told council members before the vote. “I think this day has been a long time coming.”

Oil tanks wedged between houses in the Wilmington borough of Los Angeles.

Emma Newburger | CNBC

The oil and gas industry has strongly opposed such measures, arguing that banning and phasing out oil and gas will raise gas prices and harm jobs. Supporters have called on the city to ensure that jobs with fossil fuels are replaced with jobs in clean energy.

Rock Zierman, executive director of the California Independent Petroleum Association, an industry group representing nearly 400 oil and gas companies, said the measure would essentially be “taking someone’s property without compensation, especially one that is duly permitted and heavily regulated.” “

“Shutting down domestic energy production not only puts California out of work and reduces taxes that pay for vital services, but it makes us more dependent on imported foreign oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq refueling in LA’s crowded port,” wrote Zierman in an email to CNBC.

Los Angeles is the third governmental entity in the county to pass an oil and gas ban.

Culver City last year passed an executive order phasing out oil and gas extraction in its part of Inglewood Oil Field within five years and requiring all wells to be plugged and abandoned during this period. And the LA County Board of Supervisors voted last year to ban new wells and phase out existing wells in unincorporated areas.

In October, California moved to ban oil wells located within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and populated areas after decades of complaints from residents and activist groups. If adopted, the rule will not ban existing wells in these areas, but instead require new pollution control.

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