Lead Story West Edition

Residents demand relief from South L.A. oil drilling

LOS ANGELES —A group of South Los Angeles residents said health problems ranging from bloody noses and headaches to cancer have been caused by oil drilling operations taking place in their neighborhood.

The Jefferson Drill site, which is located at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Budlong Avenue, has been the subject of ongoing public dissent since 2013.

In their latest effort to mobilize against activity at the site, which is now managed by Colorado-based Sentinel Peak Resources, nearly 100 residents gathered at a city zoning administration hearing Jan. 26. Sentinel Peak purchased the Jefferson Drill site in December and is one in a long line of owners since 1960, when the site was established.

“We are simply asking for fair treatment for South L.A. children and their families,” said Richard Parks, president of Redeemer Community Partnership,a nonprofit Christian community development corporation that works in the Exposition Park neighborhood to create a safe and healthy community. “We are asking for three protections the city gave to wealthier, whiter, West L.A. neighborhoods decades ago.”

Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, a previous operator of the site, asked the city for permission in 2013 to drill three new oil wells, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That request has since been withdrawn, but the public outcry has remained with residents of the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood complaining of health and noise problems.

“The stories we heard were just incredible,” Parks said. “Neighbors had told us about how their homes had been sprayed with oil, how closed windows could not keep out these awful fumes.”

An oil company worker stands next to a tanker being loaded with oil from a Jefferson Boulevard drilling site that South Los Angeles residents says is affecting their health. The residents went before a city zoning administration hearing last week with their complaints. (Courtesy photo)
An oil company worker stands next to a tanker being loaded with oil from a Jefferson Boulevard drilling site that South Los Angeles residents says is affecting their health. The residents went before a city zoning administration hearing last week with their complaints. (Courtesy photo)

At the hearing, residents called on Theodore Irving, associate zoning administrator, to take immediate action to close the site. Parks said if the city is not willing to do that then at the very least it should extend the same protections afforded affluent West L.A. neighborhoods in the past.

That would include, enclosing the drill site to shield residents from oil sprays, deafening noise and acrid petroleum odors; mandating the use of electric workover rigs which are quieter and less polluting than the diesel ones currently used; and requiring real-time, publicly accessible air quality monitoring.

“The zoning administrator, I think, heard a very clear call for these common-sense protections,” Parks said.

The city is expected to comment on the hearing in three to four months.

Yeghig Keshishian, director of external affairs for the city’s planning department, explained that the process requires a comprehensive battery of next steps before a letter of determination can be issued.

“It is very important to recognize that the planning department, led by the zoning administrator, is limited in its jurisdiction in terms of how to proceed. It is essentially looking at land use authorities. It doesn’t have the right necessarily to weigh-in on AQMD violations,” Keshishian said.

“Sometimes seeing the long-term effects [of drilling] are really difficult, but when you see trees and plants being chemically burned from acid drops, you know that something is wrong,” Parks said.