Community seeks environmental study for South LA oil site

A packed house turned out at City Hall to discuss plans for the Budlong drill site. | Matt Tinoco

A packed house turned out at City Hall to discuss plans for the Budlong drill site. | Matt Tinoco

More than 150 Angelenos showed up at City Hall on Tuesday to voice concerns about oil giant Freeport McMoRan’s plans to expand operations in its urban-drilling facility located in South L.A. near the University of Southern California.

A room on the 10th floor of City Hall was filled with a sea of Angelenos from various walks of life, ranging from the working-class residents of apartment buildings bordering the facility to committed ecological warriors residing in Hollywood Hills.

Their collective demand was simple: Require a full environmental impact report before permitting the oil company to proceed with its plans for expansion. This meeting had been organized to allow the public to direct comments to Maya Zaitzevsky, associate zoning administrator for Los Angeles.

See also: West Adams neighbors seek to oust oil production

The particular facility of concern, often called the Budlong site, is located at 1371 West Jefferson Boulevard at Budlong Avenue. Guarded by chemical warning signs and whitewashed walls like other active wells throughout South Los Angeles, oil drilling operations at Freeport’s site occur mere feet from residences. This proximity concerns many who worry about adverse effects from the extraction of fossil fuel.

A view of the Budlong oil drilling site. | Matt Tinoco

A view of the Budlong oil drilling site. | Matt Tinoco

See also: City Council votes to halt oil drilling in South LA and throughout city

Earlier this year, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer launched a lawsuit against Allenco Energy, which operates an urban well similar to Freeport’s on 23rd Street, just blocks from USC. Feuer’s lawsuit came after neighbors filed 251 complaints with the South Coast Regional Air Quality Management District, alleging fumes from the Allenco well were sickening, causing respiratory problems and nosebleeds in both adults and children.

When Environmental Protection Agency inspectors inspected the well last November, they, too were sickened by noxious fumes at the site. Like the Freeport well, the 23rd Street site is nestled between houses and apartments, and resides less than a block from an elementary school.

See also: Allenco to pay for upgrades at South LA oil drilling site

Public commenters echoed similar concerns in Tuesday’s session about Budlong.

“A lot of the time there is a terrible, acrid smell coming from the drilling site,” said Alicia Garcia, who lives across the street from the well. “Closing the windows doesn’t help, and sometimes it’s so bad I need to cough or leave.”

At present, Freeport McMoRan wants to re-drill two oil-producing wells, as well as add a third, new injection well. According to L. Rae Connet of Petroland Services who represented Freeport on Tuesday, “This is exactly what has been going on since 1965 when the site was first constructed.”

Consequently, the site shouldn’t be subject to any new restrictions, she said, since allegedly there is no new activity occurring there. They are simply re-drilling old wells that were already in place.

“No new technology is being used,” said the petroleum attorney. “It’s the same technology that was used in 1965.”

Many of the chemicals used in the drilling process are also used in regular household products, Connet added.

“Glycerin is used in my Shampoo. Formaldehyde is used in paper towels,” she said. “In Gerber Baby…”

“I get the picture,” interjected Zoning Administrator Zaitzevsky, spurring laughs across the audience in the overflow room.

Community members took concerns to City Hall. | Matt Tinoco

Community members took concerns to City Hall. | Matt Tinoco

Assurances about the safety of the well from Freeport’s representatives did little to quell the worries of those living adjacent to the facility, experiencing it every day.

Concerns include the high volumes of truck traffic on residential streets, illegal repainting of curbs and even oil spray from the plant landing on resident’s homes and cars.

Richard Louie, who lives less than a quarter mile from the well, said that when he’s tried to get information from Freeport about the plant, he’s never had a good experience with the company. Still, he wants to know more.

“I have two children who I want to raise in a safe environment. But to be honest I don’t know anything about the science of how these drilling sites affect my family and my neighbors,” Louie said. “An environmental report that we could read, making sure they’re operating within the guidelines of safety regulation, would be enormously helpful.”

Most residents asking for an environmental impact report did not rule out the possibility of letting the company expand its drilling operations. They only wanted assurance that any expansion be done safely and responsibly.

The meeting on Tuesday did not result in a decision. An aide for Councilman Bernard Parks, who until now has not officially voiced an opinion, asked for 30 days to allow the office to meet with stakeholders on both sides of the issue. Another meeting is scheduled for January 6.

View Larger Map

Like Intersections on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the Newsletter to stay in the loop on news and views from South L.A.

Speak Your Mind