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LA Neighborhoods Concerned about Oil Drilling Expansion

Wave Newspapers, News Report, LEILONI DE GRUY Posted: Jun 29, 2008

Residents of several neighborhoods in and around South L.A. express doubt about proposal by firm that has been source of controversy.

With a two-year moratorium on new drilling at a southwest Los Angeles area oil field set to lift June 30, residents of surrounding communities such as Baldwin Hills, View Park and Culver City are expressing fears that the field’s Texas-based owner may seek to create up to 1,000 new wells on the site.

Owned by Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP), the two-square-mile Baldwin Hills Oil Field has operated for more than 80 years on a stretch of land clearly visible along South La Cienega Boulevard. There are currently about 400 active drills on the site, according to residents who believe the facility in its current form is already having adverse effects on their quality of life.

“I understand that there is pressure to drill for oil, but the problem is that personally I have experienced what can happen if either controls are not put in place, or are not followed,” said Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance member Laura D’Auri during a June 19 press conference at Kenneth Hahn State Park. “We had tremendous methane emission on our hill in Culver City that woke up the entire neighborhood and had hundreds of calls placed to the police department, and following that there were a number of smaller spills.”

Added Culver City resident John Kuchle: “The residents of Culver Crest have a special interest in PXP because of the gas release in 2006 which forced some of us to evacuate our homes in the middle of the night … It is simply not acceptable for the approximately one million people who live in the vicinity of this oil field to be treated as human guinea pigs and to say that 20 years from now we can conduct a study to see if we’ve been exposed to carcinogens because of PXP’s drilling.”

Gary Gless, a resident of the Windsor Hills area, said “we have actually dealt with PXP for decades — with noise, dust, vibrations, even toxins during gas releases … We do believe that we need oil but we need to do it in a safe and effective manner.”

PXP representatives did not respond to several requests for comment about potential new plans for the site. But UCLA School of Public Health researcher Brian Cole said, “We’re not just talking about a thousand new oil wells — with those wells there are pipelines, roads, other facilities to take the polluted water out of the oil, to strip out hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds. This is a major undertaking.”

Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils, said that the coalition’s goal is not to prevent the company from expanding their drill sites within the area, but “we believe it could be done in a more effective, efficient and clean way that protects the environment.”

According to a recently-drafted county environmental impact report, “Toxic emissions associated with future construction and operation would increase over the current emissions due to an increase in the crude oil throughput, fugitive emissions associated with new equipment and an increase in combustion associated with existing heaters and new heaters and the new steam generators.

“Based on the annual emission reporting requirements of the SCAQMD [South Coast Air Quality Management District], future operations … exceed the thresholds for benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde, ammonia and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. Overall, worst-case health risk associated with future operations exceeded applicable health risk criteria for individual cancer risk and acute non-cancer risk”

The Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance put together a list of recommendations it feels will satisfy all parties. Consolidation, it believes, will omit potential health risks and will decrease the effects it may have on the environment, as will enforcing environmental and health protections through monitoring, sanctions, and penalties. In addition, the organization wants the company to be responsible for clean up and for maintaining the landscape and park. Another recommendation would require involving residents in the decision-making process, making them overseers of a multi-sector advisory committee.

“In Beverly Hills they have a similar but smaller plot from which they are pulling [oil]. They have a consolidated number of wells, they’re covered up very nicely, there is very little noise and there are no emission problems,” Galloway-Gilliam said. “They are pulling more oil out of that field than they are here so our issue with them is not drilling. Do not sell us cheap — go ahead and bring us the same technology, consolidate our wells.” Ultimately, she said, county lawmakers can put a zoning ordinance in place and “decide how this process is unveiled and they will ultimately decide what is in the zoning regulation.”

State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area and is himself a candidate for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, praised the alliance’s efforts, saying “the self-education, the civic engagement and drafting of a community-driven document, is the quintessence of citizen empowerment.”

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