City Council President Herb Wesson. Photo by John Schreiber.
City Council President Herb Wesson. Photo by John Schreiber.

City Council President Herb Wesson introduced a motion Wednesday calling for a study on eliminating oil drilling in Los Angeles near homes, schools, parks, churches and health-care facilities.

“With this motion, the city of Los Angeles will do the necessary work to study the feasibility of adding a health and safety buffer to the city’s zoning code,” Wesson said. “I’m hopeful the study will provide insight into the systemic improvements needed to further protect every Angeleno from the health impacts of oil and gas extraction in residential neighborhoods.”

Wesson’s motion does not specify how far a drilling operation might need to be located from protected facilities. But it calls for the Department of City Planning, with the assistance of the city attorney and the city’s petroleum administrator, to report back within 90 days with an analysis of possible changes to the city’s zoning code that drilling operations be located within “a certain setback proximity” of residential facilities.

Several of Wesson’s council colleagues expressed support for the motion, including Councilmen Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

“Oil and gas are dirty and dangerous fossil fuels that have no place in the Los Angeles of the future,” Bonin said. Operating oil and gas wells next to homes, schools and businesses in our neighborhoods … simply isn’t safe, and the action we are taking today will help protect people in Los Angeles from the threats posed by oil and gas drilling in our neighborhoods.”

Residents who live near drilling sites have been speaking out in recent years about health complications they believe are connected to the local oil fields.

A growing body of scientific evidence has found that people living within 2,500 feet of active oil and gas drilling sites have an increased risk of health problems, including cancer, according to Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling-Los Angeles.

“Establishing a health and safety buffer for oil extraction within city limits is an opportunity for Los Angeles to lead the country at a time when the Trump administration seems intent on reversing important environmental and climate policies,” said Martha Dina Arguello, a member of STAND-L.A.

The CEO of an association representing 500 independent oil and natural gas producers said Wesson’s proposal would hurt local jobs, reduce tax revenue and likely result in legal action.

“If the council proceeds with this study, it needs to take into account the economic impact of banning local energy jobs, the loss of state and local taxes, the legal exposure the city will face from an illegal taking of private property, as well as the increased dependence on imported foreign oil tankered into L.A.’s ports,” said Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

If the study was to lead to a law banning drilling near residential properties, it could have wide-ranging implications for the local industry, which has more than 1,000 oil wells in the city and more than 580,000 residents living within a quarter-mile of one.

Zierman said the environmental standards for drilling in Los Angeles are among the strongest in existence.

“Production within the Los Angeles basin must follow the toughest standards in the nation, if not the world. This not only includes regulation by the city, but also the county, regional air quality management, as well as state and federal regulators,” Zierman said.

In January, residents who live near a South L.A. drilling site on Jefferson Boulevard lined up at a city Office of Zoning Administration hearing to complain of health problems, excessive noise and pollution.

In 2015, several activist groups representing youth filed a lawsuit claiming the city permitted oil wells near residential areas without conducting environmental studies required under state law and violated anti-discriminatory practices because so many of the wells are located in minority neighborhoods.

The lawsuit — no money was sought — was settled in 2016 with officials agreeing to implement new procedures to ensure the city complies with California Environmental Quality Act guidelines when permitting oil wells.

— City News Service

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