Angelenos Take a Stand Against Urban Oil Drilling

Oil drilling in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Photo: NRDC

Companies are pumping oil out of the ground every day in Los Angeles, exposing nearby residents to a toxic cocktail of health-threatening emissions. Safeguards for communities at the city, state, and federal levels have lagged far behind where they should be, and many of the more than 1,000 active oil wells within city limits operate in low-income communities of color. Recently, however, a coalition of determined residents and local groups has emerged to protect their communities from this dangerous industrial practice.

Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-LA) is a coalition of residents, health practitioners, and communities of faith that are working together to protect low-income communities of color from the adverse health effects and dangerous air pollution caused by urban oil drilling in Los Angeles. Many of the chemicals commonly used in oil and gas production activities are known to cause debilitating health effects such as asthma, headaches, nosebleeds, and nausea, and Angelenos in neighborhoods near oil drilling sites have reported the very same health conditions. STAND-LA is responding to this public health emergency with dedicated force and urgency, organizing rallies and pushing for a city-wide health and safety buffer zone to protect homes, schools, and other sensitive land uses from the impacts of oil production operations. NRDC is proud to stand with STAND-LA in this effort.

Two recent events demonstrate the incredible community engagement and momentum STAND-LA has created on this issue. On October 4th of last year, the day after 40 Catholic institutions decided to divest from fossil fuels, STAND-LA advocates and community members gathered outside the Los Angeles Archdiocese office in downtown L.A. to protest the Archdiocese’s leasing of its land to the AllenCo oil company to operate its drill site in the University Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Four years ago, the AllenCo site was shut down after EPA, the state, and the city found multiple violations of environmental laws and regulations, threatening the health of local communities. AllenCo is now trying to resume its operations in South L.A., which would put the community at risk once again.

Community members rally outside the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Photo: NRDC

Those who attended the rally prayed, sang, and shared testimonials about how urban oil drilling impacts community members, including many of the Archdiocese’s parishioners. Several parishioners shared stories of walking past the AllenCo oil site to attend school and worship at one of the diocese’s parishes in South L.A. Hearing about the daily challenges and chronic health issues faced by people who live near oil drilling sites emphasized that there is no place for oil drilling in residential communities. The rally concluded with the creation of an altar that displayed notes to the Archdiocese imploring it to end its lease with AllenCo.

STAND-LA is also urging the City of Los Angeles to place greater restrictions on urban drilling. On November 13th, community members and allies gathered at City Hall to urge the Los Angeles City Health Commission to support a 2,500-foot safety buffer between oil drilling sites and homes, schools, hospitals, and other sensitive sites. More than 50 individuals made public comments describing the ways in which neighborhood oil drilling impacts public health and the environment. Several STAND-LA allies, including NRDC, were present and provided public comments. At the end of the meeting, the Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend to their respective council members that the City Council adopt a setback ordinance.

The Health Commission vote was an important step and a victory for STAND-LA, but this fight is far from over. We will continue to stand with STAND-LA and advocate for our health and for the justice of communities surrounding oil drilling sites. 

Big thanks to my colleagues Daniela Garcia and Beth Kent, who contributed to this blog post.

Health Commission meeting at LA City Hall. Photo: NRDC

About the Authors

Damon Nagami

Senior Attorney, Lands Division, Nature Program

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