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County vote sets up oil-field phaseout

LA-area move looks to close down drilling to address environmental concerns by DREW COSTLEY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 16, 2021 at 1:43 a.m.
Motorists wait for a signal to change as pump jacks extract oil at the Inglewood Oil Field, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to phase out oil and gas drilling and ban new drill sites in the unincorporated areas of the nation's most populous county.

More than 1,600 active and idle oil and gas wells in the county could be shuttered after the 5-0 vote by the board of supervisors. A timetable for the phaseout will be decided after the county determines the fastest way to legally shut down the wells.

Among the sites is the Inglewood Oil Field, one of the largest U.S. urban oil fields. The sprawling, 1,000-acre site, owned and operated by Sentinel Peak Resources, contains over half the oil and gas wells in the county's unincorporated areas. The field produced 2.5 million to 3.1 million barrels of oil a year over the past decade, according to the company.

"The goal is to provide direction to county departments to begin addressing the variety of issues, environmental and climate impacts created by these active and inactive oil and gas wells," said Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who represents the district where most of the Inglewood Oil Field is situated.

Mitchell, along with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, made the motion to phase out drilling in the county's unincorporated areas.

The California Independent Petroleum Association, representing nearly 400 oil and gas industry entities, opposed the measure. In a letter to the board, Chief Executive Officer 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.

Sentinel Peak Resources, owner of Inglewood Oil Field, did not respond to calls and emails for comment on the motion.

Inglewood Oil Field is adjacent to several Black communities, including Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights and View Park, where residents have worried about the field's effects on their health and the local environment for at least a decade. Residents have complained of foul odors from the wells and say they have seen oil bubbling through sidewalk cracks in their neighborhoods.

"There are tens of thousands of people who live in very close proximity to oil wells, 73% of whom are people of color," Mitchell said in an interview before the vote. "So, for me, it really is an equity issue."

Inglewood was the site of a spill in April when a pipeline leaked more than 1,600 gallons of oil, according to the California Governor's Office Emergency Services. Supporters of the phaseout have said that shutting down drilling will move the region closer to environmental equity.

Companies have been drilling for oil in Los Angeles since the late-1890s, and the area quickly became a hub for oil production in California.

The measure that passed also called for residents, the oil companies and other stakeholders in the community to explore what else can be done with the privately owned land. "My goal is complete, comprehensive [cleanup of the site], with the oil companies paying for it, not taxpayers," Supervisor Mitchell said.

The petroleum industry's Zierman said companies should be compensated if their operations are condemned without justification.

A truck drives past pump jacks operating at the Inglewood Oil Field, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A truck drives past pump jacks operating at the Inglewood Oil Field, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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