Activists seeking to buffer homes and other sensitive sites from oil rigs in Los Angeles pushed the city Wednesday to move ahead with proposed distance requirements included in a new report, but the document warns the move could have severe financial implications.
The report by the Los Angeles petroleum administrator, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, recommends that the City Council order a study of the “feasibility” of requiring a 1,500-foot buffer between future rigs and sites such as homes, churches, schools, recreational areas and medical facilities. It also calls for a feasibility study of decommissioning existing rigs located less than 600 feet from such sites.
But the report, dated Monday, warns that the proposed restriction on new rigs alone could cost the city between $1.2 billion and $97.6 billion “in constitutional taking by mineral rights owners of the remaining 1.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves,” in addition to $1 million a year in anticipated litigation costs. The report also estimated city costs of at least $724 million in anticipated litigation, lost oil production, well abandonment, environmental remediation and cleanup and surface land value stemming from a phase-out of existing oil facilities.
Citing past reports on the health effects of oil-drilling activity, activists have called for a 2,500-foot buffer between such rigs and sensitive sites.
Representatives of the organization Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling-Los Angeles said Wednesday the report’s call for buffers around oil rigs represents a win for the group, even though the document only calls for more study and warns of exorbitant potential costs.
“We have been doing this for a long time and we know that along the way there are going to be small victories, and getting this report out, we’ve waited a year,” Martha Dina Arguello, co-chair of STAND-L.A. and executive director of physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, told City News Service. “When you’re trying to do things to help and to protect people, it takes a long time. We’re ready for the next phase … and we need to act boldly.”
Dina Arguello deferred comment on the report’s cost estimates, saying she wants experts affiliated with her group to review the figures.
“The report’s release is a long-awaited victory for fenceline communities, whose leadership has forced city officials to acknowledge the health impacts of Big Oil,” she said in an earlier statement. “However, the report’s recommendation for a 600-foot buffer is not nearly enough. The report fails to incorporate the best available science to recommend effective protections. We refuse to put a price on entire communities that are exposed to toxic oil emissions, and we refuse to sacrifice entire communities by accepting a 600-foot recommendation.”
The City Council in 2017 called for the study on oil operations in Los Angeles and the potential effects of them on surrounding communities. At the time, the council asked for the report within 120 days. It wound up taking two years.
The idea of banning drilling could have wide-ranging implications, with officials noting there are more than 1,000 wells in the city and more than 580,000 residents living within a quarter-mile of one.
Representatives of some oil companies, labor and business groups said two years ago that eliminating oil drilling in Los Angeles would cost jobs, but residents who live near drilling sites have complained about health issues they believe are connected to the local oil fields.
The report also recommends the City Council instruct the petroleum administrator and the County Department of Public Health to report on costs for a health-risk assessment at existing oil and gas drilling sites adjacent to residential and industrial zoned areas.