Lead Story West Edition

Activists want safety zone around urban drilling sites

By Jacqueline Fernandez

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — More than 50 environmental and climate justice advocates rallied at Los Angeles City Hall Aug. 30, demanding that the City Council pass a law calling for a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer around active oil wells.

“This is not just a health or safety crisis, but a moral crisis,” said the Rev. Kelvin Sauls, co-founder of STAND-L.A. (Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling).

The organization is an environmental justice coalition of community groups that aim to end local oil drilling.

“Our campaign is focused on two challenges: health and safety,” Sauls added. “We’ve seen a lot of respiratory issues. We have children dealing with emphysema and that’s just uncalled for.”

The protest followed the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Former Vice President Al Gore created the Climate Reality Project in 2006, which is focused on climate change education.

That led activists from other parts of the country and the world to come and support the rally. Anna Pearson, a representative from the L.A. Chapter of the Climate Reality Project, was one of the speakers.

“Environmental justice is important because everyone deserves clean water, clean air and surroundings free of toxic chemicals, no matter who they are or where they live,” Pearson said.

Last year, the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee forwarded three motions to the Los Angeles City Council, including one that would prevent an oil field operated by AllenCo Energy Co. on land leased from the Los Angeles Archdiocese from reopening.

The AllenCo field — located at 814 W. 23rd St. — voluntarily shut down in 2013 after the federal Environmental Protection Agency fined the oil operation $99,000 for not preventing toxic emissions.

Nalleli Cobo suffers health issues because of those toxins. The 17 year old developed asthma and other respiratory issues as a child, conditions she will probably have to live with the rest of her life.

“I got heart palpitations and I had to use a heart monitor for several weeks,” Cobo said. “I got nose bleeds so bad I couldn’t sleep horizontally, I had to sleep in an upright position.”

“I was constantly in and out of the doctor’s office and finally we told him we live next to an oil well. He placed his glasses on his head, looked at my mom right in the eyes and said you need to move.”

Her family couldn’t move right away from their affordable housing. Cobo highlights this as another hurdle for many residents, because most of the wells are in low-income communities.

Now, she is an activist trying to get all the wells in Los Angeles permanently closed.

“Those oil wells should not be there in the first place and its time we switched from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Cobo said.

Activists want to stress the importance of this problem. Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of Esperanza Community Housing, hopes residents realize what is actually behind those beige walls.

“One of those things that have been consistently astonishing to those that have been fighting against neighborhood drilling since 2009 in Los Angeles, so many residents that live adjacent to sites do not know what is going on,” she said.

“We want the community to learn how to report odors both to the health department as well as the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which may not to anything for them, but their complaints will be recorded.”

According to STAND L.A., in June 2017 the Los Angeles City Council moved to direct the city petroleum administrator to complete a report on the health and safety impacts of urban oil drilling and potential solutions within 120 days.

They’re still waiting for the report.

“We expect that when we hear you at conferences talking about the bold leadership of Los Angeles, we want you to make that real and we want you to make it real for the people who live next to those oil wells,” said Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, towards City Hall.

However, its looks like these pleas are being heard.

On Sept. 4, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved two motions. One would prevent AllenCo from reopening.

The council also moved forward a number of recommendations on consolidating the city’s efforts to regulate the industry. A vote on a third motion to order annual city inspections of oil well sites was deferred to a later date.