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Unequal Protections From the Risks of Oil Drilling

Posted by Erin Steva, Brownfields Policy Analyst on February 23rd, 2015
Photo credit: Flickr User Faces of Fracking (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The land of sunshine, celebrities, and world-famous beaches is also home to 5,000 active oil and gas wells. These wells are spread across 10 oil fields and 70 different sites embedded in neighborhoods, parks, and commercial districts throughout the City of Los Angeles. Although oil drilling occurs in diverse neighborhoods ranging from affluent Cheviot Hills to pollution-burdened Wilmington, in a new issue brief, Community Health Councils found low-income communities of color in the City have fewer protections from the risks from local oil drilling operations than more affluent, whiter neighborhoods.

What does “fewer protections” mean? When Zoning Administrators for Los Angeles determined the terms of drilling in affluent communities in the 1950s and

Oil Drilling in Los Angeles: A Story of Unequal Protections
Community Health Councils found low-income communities of color in the City of Los Angeles have fewer protections from the risks from local oil drilling operations than more affluent, whiter neighborhoods.

1960s, they noted oil drilling was an activity more suited for industrial zones, and only allowed drilling in the Wilshire and West Los Angeles areas after a strict set of precautionary measures were enacted. Precautionary measures included enclosing drilling equipment and/or sites, monitoring air quality and noise levels, creating a 24 hour hotline for complaints and concerns, and setting stringent property screening measures like tall trees and walls to block sight of unattractive equipment. As a result, the oil drilling that occurs in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods is either at least 400 feet farther away from homes than in the lower-income communities of South Los Angeles and Wilmington—where the majority of the residents are Latino and African American—or is partially or completely enclosed to protect the neighboring community from the myriad of risks.

In recent years, oil drilling operations in South Los Angeles and Wilmington have received 53 more regulatory violations than oil production in wealthier communities with half of those violations coming from the notoriously dangerous operations by AllenCo in the University Park neighborhood. All in all, the data tells us past city decisions have failed to protect low-income communities in LA from the risks of oil drilling.

What does this mean for residents living near oil production? Residents have been unable to sleep at night due to noise, lights have flooded into neighboring windows, dust and other airborne particles have made breathing difficult, and the handling of tanker trucks of chemicals has raised concerns about threats to public health. With hundreds of thousands of people living near oil drilling facilities that are inadequately regulated, especially in low-income communities of color, the City of Los Angeles has an imperative to swiftly implement citywide standards fully protective of human health and we recommend the LA City Council use their land use authority to address the issue.  Allowing oil production without protecting impacted communities is indefensible.

For more information, please contact Community Health Councils’ Policy Analyst, Erin Steva at erin@chc-inc.org.