Ordinance to end oil drilling in LA moves forward

A second council committee recommended adoption of a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would phase out oil and gas extraction in Los Angeles, moving the city a step closer to banning oil drilling.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted 3-0 to adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration and move forward with the proposed ordinance despite Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, a coalition of environmental justice groups, asking the committee two weeks ago to pause conducting business until Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resign for their role in the City Hall racism scandal.

The group released a statement ahead of the committee's Oct. 18 meeting, which was canceled, stating that "while this meeting is a critical step in the process of getting this ordinance passed and making neighborhood oil drilling a thing of the past, we believe that values of racial justice and solidarity require bold action."

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, chair of the committee, said following the vote that he decided to move forward with the item because "the result of delaying is more low-income people of color breathing bad air for a longer period of time."

"And so another one of those situations where we don't have a lot of good choices," Harris-Dawson said.

The Energy, Climate Change, Environment Justice, and River Committee voted Oct. 6 to advance its recommendation to the City Council. The Arts, Parks, Health, Education, and Neighborhoods Committee waived consideration of the item.

"We are sending a clear message to big oil," said Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, chair of the energy committee. "The city of L.A. will no longer tolerate oil and gas extraction."

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance earlier in October. The City Council in January unanimously approved a series of recommendations aimed at banning new oil and gas wells. The draft ordinance would phase out all such oil and gas extraction activities by immediately banning new oil and gas extraction and ceasing existing operations within 20 years.

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"Families -- no matter where they happen to live -- deserve to breathe clean air, have safe neighborhoods and an opportunity for a healthy life, free from the harmful impacts of dirty energy," O'Farrell said.

Under the draft ordinance, operators would not be able to expand their existing sites or extend the life of a well during the 20-year phase-out period.

Many community groups have lobbied Los Angeles to stop oil drilling, citing the harm it has on communities, which is disproportionately felt in working-class communities and communities of color. More than 500,000 Los Angeles County residents live within a half-mile of an active oil well.

"They have waited for generations for actions," Council President Paul Krekorian said at the energy committee meeting. "They have waited for something to be done by the city to relieve their health concerns."

Krekorian responded to concerns over a potential loss of jobs and an increase in gas prices. He said less than 1% of crude oil processed in Southern California refineries actually comes from wells in Los Angeles, and the loss of oil drilling will not impact gas prices locally. On jobs, Krekorian said he believes the era of oil and gas is ending regardless.

The committee held off on voting on a separate item that would have recommended placing an oil extraction tax before voters on a future ballot.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed new rules last October, under which new oil wells or drilling facilities in California would have to be at least 3,200 feet from homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other "sensitive locations."

Newsom cited the impact that toxic chemicals has on communities, including asthma and birth defects. The proposal is undergoing an economic analysis and public comment before taking effect. The governor has also called for a statewide phase-out of oil extraction by 2045.

A USC study published in April linked living by urban oil wells with wheezing and reduced lung function, symptoms disproportionately borne by people of color in Los Angeles. In some cases, the respiratory harm rivals that of daily exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke or living beside highways spewing auto exhaust, the researchers found.

The study focused on drilling sites in two South L.A. neighborhoods, Jefferson Park and North University Park, yet could have implications elsewhere in the region. About one-third of L.A. County residents live less than one mile from an active drilling site -- and some live as close as 60 feet.