Lead Story West Edition

City closes South L.A. oil drilling site

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Gil Cedillo announced March 13 that the city is taking action to permanently shut down part of an oil and gas drill site in the University Park neighborhood which went idle in 2013 when residents complained its fumes were making them sick.

The city and Cedillo have been exploring a number of ways to permanently close the full drill site that is owned by the Los Angeles Archdiocese and operated by AllenCo Energy. The city’s Petroleum Administrator, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, issued a letter notifying AllenCo Energy of the expiration of its lease agreement with the city due to a lack of production at the facility and said it is ending the company’s right to operate three wells that run beneath city-owned property from the site, which has a total of 21 wells.

“Our climate crisis demands a swift end to dependence on fossil fuels, and we’ll seize every opportunity to plug up a well,” Garcetti said. “By shutting down these wells for good, we are putting communities first, helping keep the air clean for our families, and moving us closer to a clean energy future that doesn’t depend on dirty oil.”

A woman who answered the phone at AllenCo said the company had no comment.

The St. James Exploratory Oil and Gas Lease at 814 W. 23rd St. operated by AllenCo was approved by city officials in 1963, which allowed the company to access oil under city-owned land.

After federal, state, and local agencies found that the company had violated environmental orders, AllenCo voluntarily ceased oil production at the site in 2013, but under the terms of the lease, any lapse in production allows the city to revoke the company’s operating authority under city property, according to Garcetti and Cedillo’s offices.

In 2016, City Attorney Mike Feuer said the oil field must remain closed until the operator shows it has adhered to all regulations, with even the smallest leak potentially triggering another closure.

Feuer sued the company in early 2014 and obtained an injunction forcing the facility operators to follow all relevant regulatory laws. AllenCo also agreed to pay $1.25 million in penalties, split equally between the City Attorney’s and District Attorney’s offices.

Cedillo’s office said in 2017 that the company was making efforts to reopen the St. James site, and stepped up efforts to prevent it from happening.

“The health, safety and welfare of residents are my paramount concern,” Cedillo said last week. “I share the community’s desire to ensure that this oil site does not re-open and resume operations. We reaffirm our commitment to our residents by severing the company’s contract and not renewing the expired leases with the city.”

Garcetti and Cedillo’s offices said in a joint news release that the city will “continue working with the landowner to identify alternative uses for the property that are more compatible with the needs and values of Angelenos.”

Food & Water Watch, which works in communities across L.A. to educate neighbors on the impacts of urban oil drilling, and build support for a 2,500-foot setback between oil drilling and homes, schools, parks and hospitals, issued a statement on the city’s actions.

“This is great news for our neighbors in University Park and our partners in People not Pozos, who have been fighting drilling in their neighborhood for years” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Walker Foley.We are encouraged that Mayor Garcetti is putting the health and safety of Angelenos first, and taking meaningful action that will also curb climate change. Now, we urge the mayor and Council President Herb Wesson to stand together to end all neighborhood drilling in L.A., which affects thousands of families.”

According to Food and Water Watch, almost half of all L.A. Neighborhood Councils are on record in support of setbacks between oil drilling and homes, schools, parks and hospitals.