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Climate and Environment

De León Calls For Closure Of Last Active Oil Wells In Downtown LA

The downtown Los Angeles skyline is seen at a distance from a residential neighborhood.
The downtown L.A. skyline.
(Dillon Shook
Unsplash )
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A Los Angeles city council member is calling for the closure of an oil-drilling site downtown, saying that it poses a health risk to hundreds of low-income and vulnerable residents in the area.

In a letter to the city's planning department this week, Kevin de León, whose district includes downtown L.A., cited reports that the drill site on Broadway near Pico Boulevard has "a troubling pattern" of skirting legal requirements, including injecting more than the allowable surface injection pressure into wells and refusing access to inspections.

De León said elevated methane levels were detected over the site last August and that Nasco Petroleum, which owns and operates the facility, never responded with the results of a required investigation into the matter with any proof of repair, mitigation efforts or test results.

"We've set forth the motion and the process to shut this oil well down in Los Angeles," de León said Thursday, speaking at the drill site. "It's the last one that's active in downtown Los Angeles."

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A check on the state oil and gas regulator's website appears to confirm that the facility is the only remaining active oil-drilling site in the downtown area. The California Geologic Energy Management Division's map shows seven active wells at 155 West 14th Place and 1325 South Broadway.

We reached out to Nasco for comment, but had not received a reply by the time this story was published.

It's easy to forget sometimes, but the history and growth of Los Angeles is deeply intertwined with the discovery of oil fields here. L.A. has the largest concentration of urban oil fields in the nation, and a city report found more than a third of L.A. residents live less than a quarter-mile from an active oil well — a disproportionate share of whom live in lower-income communities of color. Living in close proximity to an active well can pose serious health risks.

This particular site sits near a hotel, several large apartment complexes with hundreds of units, and an adult rehabilitation center.

Martha Dina Argüello of Standing Together Against Neighborhood Drilling called it "environmental racism" and said she is glad de León has called to shut down the site.

"I wish every councilperson who had these wells would do the same," she said. "While we figure out a long-term solution, they're still operating, and communities are still being harmed."

She said it's time to show communities that have been "sacrificed to the fossil fuel industry" that their living standards will improve.

The site first came to Argüello's attention a little over 10 years ago, when she received a call from a partner at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation. Residents were developing adult-onset asthma and complained of symptoms that included bloody noses and dizziness, she said.

Argüello said she and the community mobilized to draw attention to the many oil-drilling sites near underserved communities in South L.A. She said she even remembers calling de León when he was still in the California Senate. (He's now running for mayor of L.A.)

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While Argüello is glad for the attention being paid to this downtown drilling site, she said there's still much more work to be done.

"One of the things that was heartbreaking for us is that ... there [are] many other communities that are impacted by oil drilling that we didn't necessarily have [the] capacity to organize," she said.

For her part, Argüello said she's still working to see oil drilling declared a nonconforming land use and to get emergency protection measures for communities living closest to drill sites.

Now she's hoping the city does its part.

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