Despite warnings of steep financial and legal risks, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to explore the creation of laws that would require large buffer areas between oil and gas drilling operations and sensitive areas such as neighborhoods and schools.
The city’s former petroleum administrator, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, suggested earlier this year that the City Council explore the feasibility of a 1,500-foot buffer between future oil rigs and sites such as homes, churches, schools, recreational areas and medical facilities. The report also suggested the city study ways to close down existing rigs located less than 600 feet from such sites.
The council voted unanimously, 15-0, to have the City Attorney’s Office provide legal advice on establishing the laws, and the potential ramifications.
Ntuk’s July report warned that the proposed restriction on new rigs alone could expose the city to between $1.2 billion and $97.6 billion in claims of illegal taking of mineral rights of 1.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves in the city, in addition to $1 million a year in anticipated litigation costs.
The report also estimated city costs of at least $724 million in settlements, lost oil production, well abandonment, environmental remediation and more from phasing out existing oil facilities.
Various public speakers from the oil and natural gas industry told the council that petroleum extraction has long been important for the Los Angeles economy because of the jobs it creates.
Michael Williams, an oil and gas industry worker of about 15 years, said he definitely wanted to hear the input of the city attorney “so the city can understand the legal liability and costs associated with these measures.”
“As a father of two young children, I definitely understand wanting to have a healthy and clean community, but these setbacks will not do that,” Williams said. “It will just raise costs and make the cost of living more difficult.”
Citing past reports on the health effects of oil-drilling activity, some community 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 in July that the city report’s call for buffers around oil rigs represented a win for the group, even though the document only calls for more study and warns of exorbitant potential costs.
Group representative Dina Arguello deferred comment on the report’s cost estimates, saying she wants experts affiliated with her organization 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, though she said the 600-foot buffer doesn’t go far enough.
The City Council in 2017 called for the study on oil operations in Los Angeles and the potential effects they may have on surrounding communities.
The idea of banning drilling outright 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 recommended 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.