Los Angeles City Council energy committee unanimously backs ban on new oil wells and sends issue to full council

A Los Angeles City Council committee recommended adoption of a proposed ordinance on Thursday, Oct. 6 that would phase out oil and gas extraction in Los Angeles, moving the city a step closer to banning oil drilling.

The Energy, Climate Change, Environment Justice, and River Committee voted unanimously to advance the recommendation to the City Council. The itemwas also referred to two other city council committees.

“We are sending a clear message to big oil,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, chair of the committee. “The city of L.A. will no longer tolerate oil and gas extraction.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance last week. The Los Angeles City Council in January unanimously approved a seriesof recommendations aimed at banning new oil and gas wells.

The draft ordinance would phase out all such oil and gas extraction activities by immediately banning new oil and gas extraction and ceasing existing operations within 20 years.

“Families — no matter where they happen to live — deserve to breathe clean air, have safe neighborhoods and an opportunity for a healthy life, free from the harmful impacts of dirty energy,” O’Farrell said.

Under the draft ordinance, operators would not be able to expand their existing sites or extend the life of a well during the 20-year phase-out period.

Many community groups have lobbied Los Angeles to stop oil drilling, citing the harm it has on communities, which is disproportionately felt in working-class communities and communities of color. More than half a million residents in Los Angeles County live within a half mile of an active oil well.

“They have waited for generations for actions,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said. “They have waited for something to be done by the city to relieve their health concerns.”

Krekorian responded to concerns over a potential loss of jobs and an increase in gas prices. He said less than 1% of crude oil processed in Southern California refineries actually comes from wells in Los Angeles, and the loss of oil drilling will not impact gas prices locally. On jobs, Krekorian said he believes the era of oil and gas is ending regardless.

The committee held off on voting on a separate item that would have recommended placing an oil extraction tax before voters on a future ballot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed new rules last October, under which new oil wells or drilling facilities in California would have to be at least 3,200 feet from homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other “sensitive locations.”

Newsom cited the impacts that toxic chemicals have on communities, including asthma and birth defects. The proposal is undergoing an economic analysis and public comment before taking effect. The governor has also called for a statewide phase-out of oil extraction by 2045.

A USC study published in April linked living by urban oil wells with wheezing and reduced lung function, symptoms disproportionately borne by people of color in Los Angeles. In some cases, the respiratory harm rivals that of daily exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke or living beside highways spewing auto exhaust, the researchers found.

The study focused on drilling sites in two South L.A. neighborhoods, Jefferson Park and North University Park, yet could have implications elsewhere in the region. About one-third of L.A. County residents live less than one mile from an active drilling site — and some live as close as 60 feet.

The city’s actions follow a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 27, to approve an ordinance banning new oil wells and production facilities in unincorporated areas, while ordering the phase-out of existing operations over the next 20 years.

The county ordinance, which mirrors the effort moving forward in the city of Los Angeles, designates existing oil wells and facilities in unincorporated areas as “nonconforming” uses, requiring them to be discontinued within 20 years. A report to the supervisors last year found that there were 1,046 active wells, 637 idle wells and 2,731 abandoned wells within the county’s unincorporated areas.

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