LA County Supervisors Vote to Strengthen Oil Drilling Safeguards

Superior Court Allows Community’s Lawsuits to Move Forward

Jessica Lass (NRDC), 310-434-2300 (office) or 202-468-6718 (cell)

LOS ANGELES (August 5, 2009) – Los Angeles County Supervisors unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday to strengthen the health and safety regulations governing a Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) oil drilling expansion proposal affecting thousands of residents living near Baldwin Hills. On the heels of this vote, the Los Angeles Superior Court today denied PXP’s motion to dismiss four lawsuits brought by community and environmental groups that seek protection from the dangers of oil drilling in congested urban areas. 

“This motion is what the community has asked for—common-sense safety measures that ensure their health is taken seriously and all precautions are taken as PXP expands its oil drilling operations in the backyards of LA residents,” said Damon Nagami, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stepped up as an advocate for the communities surrounding Baldwin Hills on an issue they were shut out of last fall.” 

The motion from Supervisor Ridley-Thomas directs the Acting Planning Director to initiate a study to consider amendments to the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (CSD), which is a set of regulations that governs oil drilling and production activities in Baldwin Hills. The study will consider, among other things, revising the number of new oil wells allowed per year and overall; imposing controls regarding the abandonment of old wells; establishing an end date for drilling; the possibility of undergrounding electrical service and piping; providing for additional visual screening of drilling and pumping activities; and restoring vegetation and topography. The motion also requires recommendations to be sent to an oversight panel and a public hearing to be convened to consider amendments to the CSD. 

Background

In January 2006, uncontrolled emissions of noxious gas from the Baldwin Hills Oil Field caused the evacuation of dozens of people and affected more than 500 homes in adjacent neighborhoods. A similar incident occurred a month later, in February 2006. 

Community action resulting from the two incidents prompted the County to adopt emergency restrictions on PXP’s operations and eventually led to a temporary moratorium on new well drilling through October 2008. In an effort to hinder public review, PXP failed to submit its draft CSD in a timely fashion, delaying the environmental review process and causing the County to rush through what should have been a thorough review process. With the agreement to refrain from drilling set to expire October 2008, the County chose to approve the inadequate CSD document in October 2008, to allow expanded drilling without sufficient oversight and protections for the community and environment.

In November 2008, NRDC and Community Health Councils, Inc. (CHC) filed a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles challenging the County for failing to provide adequate health and environmental safeguards against the dangers of expanded oil drilling operations in the densely populated south Los Angeles and Culver City neighborhoods.                              

The lawsuit involves a set of protective measures known as the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District (CSD), which is intended to regulate oil drilling and production activities in Baldwin Hills. In the lawsuit, the citizen groups claim that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to conduct an adequate environmental impact report (EIR) before adopting the CSD.

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