On September 15, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved two companion motions that will put Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation, on a path to ban existing oil drilling and transition fossil fuel workers to careers in clean energy and other climate-friendly industries.
There are approximately 1,600 active and idle oil wells within unincorporated communities of LA County. Over half of those wells are within the 1,000 acre Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the nation, located in Los Angeles County’s Second Supervisorial District. Sentinel Peak Resources, a Denver based Quantum Energy Partners portfolio company, owns and operates the oil field.
The motions were authored by Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell with co-authorship from Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn, according to a press statement from Mitchell’s Office.
Mitchell’s motion, titled Protecting Communities Near Oil and Gas Drilling Operations in Los Angeles County and coauthored by Sheila Kuhl, updates the Department of Regional Planning’s (DRP) Draft Oil Well Ordinance for unincorporated LA County to prohibit all new oil and gas extraction wells in all zones and designates all existing oil and gas extraction activities as nonconforming uses in all zones.
This motion also requests a report back from DRP in 120 days on the financial cost to phasing out oil operations with actionable steps the County can take. Read the full motion here.
Despite California’s “green” and “progressive” image, thousands of County residents live in close proximity to an oil well and nearly 73 percent of those residents are people of color, according to the motion.
The motion states:
“A substantial body of national and California-based scientific research documents evidence the harmful health impacts resulting from living in close proximity to oil drilling operations, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, and reproductive health impacts. A study of oil drill sites in South Los Angeles published by the scientific journal, Environmental Research in June 2021, documents a significant decrease in lung and pulmonary function associated with living near both active and inactive oil wells. A 2018 Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Report found that even at a distance of 1,500 feet, oil wells still pose a safety risk to nearby communities.”
After the passage of the motions, Mitchell stated, ““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. Collectively, the motions that passed today center the needs of the communities and workers most impacted by oil drilling and build on LA 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,” Mitchell concluded.
“Urban oil drilling isn’t safe,” noted Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “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.”
The California Independent Petroleum Association, a trade association representing approximately 500 independent crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty owners, and service and supply companies operating in California, opposed the measure.
“In a letter to the board, CEO Rock Zierman said a phaseout of oil and gas production would threaten hundreds of jobs, raise gas prices and make California more dependent on oil from foreign countries,” according to Drew Costley in an Associated Press article: apnews.com/…
Mitchell said chasing out oil drilling will require an intentional plan for transitioning workers on these sites into jobs and industries that are safe and provide family sustaining wages. This is the focus of Mitchell’s motion: Developing a Comprehensive Strategy for a Just Transition Away from Fossil Fuels, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn.
This motion helps operationalize the recommendations from the County’s Just Transition to Clean Energy Task Force which includes centering the needs and perspectives of workers and frontline communities in workforce transition strategies that include all sectors of the fossil fuel industry. To read the full motion click here.
“We don’t have to choose between the environment and good jobs—we can, and we should have both,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “But we need to be intentional about creating those jobs and investing in new opportunities for workers.”
In a related development, Culver City voted in June to phase out oil production and require the cleanup of well sites in the city’s portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within five years. The City of Los Angeles is also working on developing its own policy to phase out oil drilling.
Environmental justice, climate, faith, labor, and public health groups have long called for an end to neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, citing serious health risks for nearby communities and the need to stop fossil fuel extraction to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Ahead of the vote, groups submitted letters signed by 150 organizations and more than 4,000 petitions and comments to the Board urging them to protect Los Angeles communities by supporting the phase-out of dangerous oil drilling, according to Mitchell’s Office.
Representatives of labor, environmental justice, community, public health and environmental groups applauded the passage of the two motions.
“Responsibly phasing out oil drilling and cleaning up old wells is critical to ensuring we protect public health as part of a just transition in LA County,” said April Verrett, President of SEIU 2015. “We applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this historic vote, and hope that it can represent a model for the rest of the state to protect both workers and public health.”
“The oil industry has threatened the health and safety of Los Angeles’ communities of color for decades,” said Martha Dina Arguello, Co-Chair of STAND-LA. “We are grateful to the LA Board of Supervisors for this important first step toward protecting frontline communities from toxic air in their neighborhoods, and bringing about a future free from fossil fuels that we all deserve.”
“In Wilmington, we are no strangers to oil drilling and the negative health impacts that come with living near so many facets of this industry. This oil drilling phase out is a huge step towards health and racial justice for thousands of Angelenos,” said Wendy Miranda, Wilmington Community Member and Intern for Communities for a Better Environment. “We have been waiting for action, and our lungs are ready for this change. I can’t wait for the day that all of us will be able to breathe clean air, regardless of our zip code.”
“For over 10 years, Community Health Councils (CHC) has been working with the community to bring attention to and eliminate adverse health, safety and environmental risks and impacts from oil drilling and reimagine these spaces into lands that can build the health and well-being of the community,” said Sonya Vasquez, Chief Operating Officer of Community Health Councils. “Today the Board of Supervisors brings us much closer to this reality and ensures that our most vulnerable residents are prioritized and cared for.”
“Angelenos have been forced to live with dangerous oil drilling in our backyards for far too long, putting our families’ health at risk and adding to the climate chaos we’re already experiencing. This historic vote is the direct result of communities coming together to demand better,” said Sierra Club Campaign Representative Nicole Levin. “Ending oil drilling in our communities is possible, and for the sake of our health and our climate, we must do so immediately. We look forward to working with the County to follow through on this vote by phasing out existing drilling as soon as possible, and we urge the rest of Los Angeles to follow suit.”
“Today’s vote not only symbolizes the path forward for LA County, it represents the path forward for the entire state and country,” said Josiah Edwards of Sunrise LA. “It says to young, Black and brown people like me, ‘You deserve to have a future and we are going to take the action necessary to ensure that happens’. It represents the beginning of the end for fossil fuel corporations who have long benefited from environmental racism by deliberately perpetrating harm against our communities, seeking profit at our expense.”
“This historic vote builds on years of work by frontline communities who refused to be discarded as sacrifices by the oil and gas industry,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Jasmin Vargas. “Today, we applaud the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and also pay tribute to these climate champions. For too long Los Angeles communities have struggled with the toxic pollution that accompanies neighborhood drilling, only made worse by the pandemic and recent climate disasters. Today’s vote signals a new path forward for the Board of Supervisors and all other legislators faced with the growing calls for a just transition for jobs, health and the environment.”
“L.A. County’s vote makes it a national leader in responding to the code red climate emergency,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Now the rest of Los Angeles and California need to phase out oil production as fast as possible, or the hottest summer in California’s history will be the coolest of the rest of our lives.”
“We have heard the cries of residents across Los Angeles about the terrible health and neighborhood impacts they have suffered for years from oil drilling operations next door and nearby. Now, these same communities are leading the fight for their health, safety and our climate. We applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this bold action on this urgent issue. We look forward to implementing a Just Transition for workers and communities to ensure they have their rightful place in the new clean energy, green and sustainable economy of the future,” said Shane Murphy Goldsmith, President & CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation.
“This historic vote improves the lives of thousands of L.A. county residents, who have been burdened for generations by oil and gas operations,” said Damon Nagami, senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “This Board has shown tremendous leadership for others to follow as we transition to clean energy and away from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.”
In 2019, the Board adopted the Our County Sustainability Plan that included a comprehensive strategy for a more equitable LA County and two key directives for protecting communities from oil wells: (1) addressing the proximity between oil and gas operations and sensitive land uses and (2) developing a sunset strategy for oil and gas operations.
“The motions passed today build on the County’s progress over the recent years to better regulate oil drilling and prioritize the public health and safety of its residents living near oil wells,” according to a press statement from Sierra Club California.
“As someone who lives in close proximity to oil drilling, seeing motions introduced to begin the process to phase out oil drilling in LA County is exciting for frontline residents,” concluded Ashley Hernandez, Advocate with Communities for a Better Environment. “Our County has the opportunity to right the wrongs of racist land-use decisions such as redlining and expedited oil drilling permit approvals and has the power to step up for vulnerable families living, playing, and praying right next to oil drilling.”
In a tweet, Alexandra Nagy, California Director of Food & Water Watch, noted that the vote was a “HUGE WIN, but just the first step. We will fight on to ensure the @LACountyBOS vote is implemented, the @LACityCouncil passes a phase out motion after 7 years of stalling and Gov. @GavinNewsom stops all new drilling permits, phases out drilling.”
1,019 oil and gas permits approved in first 6 months of 2021
The vote took place as the Department of Conservation’s CalGEM continues to approve new and reworked oil and gas permits in Kern County and elsewhere in California, although the approval of fracking permits has declined dramatically in recent months, with the agency denying another 42 fracking permits in August.
The overall number of oil and gas permits approved under Newsom now totals 9,014 since he took office in January 2019, according to NewsomWellWatch.com, a website run by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance that maps all California oil wells. CalGEM approved 1,019 oil and gas permits in the first six months of 2021.
Total permit approvals to drill or rework new oil wells fell by 64% in the first six months of 2021 over the same period last year, “giving Governor Newsom an excellent opening to more decisively transition off of fossil fuels,” according to the two groups. The number of permit applications filed by oil and gas companies also fell by 52%.
“Overall, rates of both permit approvals and counts of permit applications to drill new wells have dropped in 2021,” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator at FracTracker Alliance. “While the market traditionally drives permit application counts, Governor Newsom now has the opportunity to reduce the expansion of oil extraction. Starting with a responsible setback for Frontline Communities of at least 2,500 feet from drilling operations, Newsom can limit new drilling and begin California’s transition away from the stranglehold of big oil.”
“The market is the single most important factor suppressing permit applications, but Governor Newsom is also sending the oil industry the right signals by rejecting fracking permit applications and announcing an end to fracking by 2024,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker. “Governor Newsom now has a golden opportunity to seize the moment and come forward with a decisive transition plan off of fossil fuels that includes switching oil workers away from production toward desperately needed well remediation.”
For more information and maps on oil and gas drilling in Los Angeles County, please read Kyle Ferrar’s piece, “It’s Time to Stop Urban Oil Drilling,” https://www.fractracker.org/?p=65832