Los Angeles is the largest urban oil field in the country. There are about 5,000 oil and gas wells in our backyards. Some are actively pumping oil, others are sitting idle, and others yet have been deserted by their operator, but all are emitting toxic pollutants into our air, water and soil. Despite all claims that both Los Angeles and California are environmentally friendly, this year it remains to be seen if our government leaders will stand up to big oil executives and adequately address the joint global warming and public health crises.
Unlike, say, Dallas, Texas, neither the City of Los Angeles nor the state of California have a requirement that oil drilling have a buffer zone between wells and where we live, work, play and pray. That has led to shocking sights in our city, county and state of an oil derrick within feet of playgrounds, food carts, homes, hospitals and more. Our communities know and the research shows the closer you live to an oil and gas well, the more exposure to toxic pollution which can lead to health issues including asthma, cancer and birth defects. Many of these oil wells are in predominantly communities of color and low income neighborhoods, which further threatens the health of already overburden and underserved households. The link between air pollution and COVID19 has even been documented by Harvard researchers.
But this past year, there are some notable cracks in the wall. The Angeles Chapter has played a pivotal role in moving us away from oil drilling in the LA basin. Our initial focus has been on a setback or buffer zone, advocating for 2500-feet between oil drilling and schools, homes, places of worship and other sensitive areas. We are going to keep pushing for the necessary health and climate protections we all deserve, including the full phase out of oil production with a just transition to protect fossil fuel workers and frontline community members alike as we move to a clean energy economy.
THE CITY OF L.A. — We are excited to report that – due to the work of the Sierra Club and many other organizations in the STAND LA Coalition--the President of the City Council Nury Martinez and the entire Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee, has requested that the City Attorney’s office draft an ordinance phasing out drilling in the City of LA, as a non-conforming use. That’s right, more than only buffer zones between oil drilling and our communities,we are now advancing a full phase out of oil production here. And things get better. We have a new ally on our city council. Councilmember Nithya Raman has signed on to support the buffer zone. As an active environmentalist, we anticipate her support in the phase out as well.
LA COUNTY — The County is reviewing its oil field regulations. Along with our allies, we have made great progress advocating for a buffer zone. We convinced the County to rewrite their draft rule after thousands of people demanded better than their initial proposal of a mere 500-foot setback only for new wells. However, since the city is considering phasing out oil production altogether, there is no reason for the County not to do it as well. And we have a new ally on our County Board of Supervisors as well. Holly Mitchell is an environmental champion and has signed on to the pledge to enact a 2500-foot buffer zone.
INGLEWOOD OIL FIELDS — The Inglewood Oil Field (IOF) is located in the County and Culver City but subject to its very own set of rules. The Clean Break Committee of the Chapter has worked tirelessly to phase out drilling in the IOF. We have made great progress last fall with Culver City passing a commitment to fully phase out and clean up their portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within 5 years. We hope the County will follow the same path. Electing Holly Mitchell, who now presides over the IOF, is a major step forward in our efforts.
STATEWIDE — The Newsom Administration is also updating their oil and gas regulations to consider health, safety, environmental and climate impacts. Over 40,000 people across California participated in writing the Governor to demand a 2,500-foot setback for the rule. Despite promising to publish the first draft by the end of the year, we are still waiting to see what the proposal will be. Last year, we also advocated in the legislature for AB345--the statewide setbacks bill that would require the state to consider 2,500-foot setback as part of their rulemaking process. While the bill passed out of the Assembly, it unfortunately failed in the Senate. Many Sierra Club members in key state senate districts contacted their state senators urging them to vote in favor of the bill which would have required the enactment of a buffer zone statewide. While AB345 failed, we remain a part of the statewide coalition advancing this work in our legislature and with the administration. WE WILL BE BACK.
In 2020 we learned that our voices can be heard, progress can happen and we can make a difference. We will continue our work this year, now focused on getting Los Angeles to phase out oil drilling altogether within the next 5 years and calling for a just transition to protect both the workers and frontline communities . What a difference a year makes. Please join us in making your voice heard by taking action at sc.org/laoil and learning more at cleanbreak.info.