West Adams neighbors seek to oust oil production


Freeport McMoRan facility at 1371 Jefferson Blvd. | Stephanie Monte

Residents in the historic West Adams neighborhood are taking a stand against an unwanted new neighbor, Freeport McMoRan Oil and Gas, which set up drilling operations there last year.

More than 100 residents have mobilized in an effort to halt FMOG operations–to keep their community safe and their air and water unpolluted, they say.

Residents and environmental organizers, united under the banner CoWatching Oil LA, are pushing for more transparency and healthier practices in L.A.’s natural gas and oil industries. They met last Thursday at the LA84 Foundation, directly across the street from the Murphy site, to strategize and formally file complaints with the Air Quality and Management Division, which regulates all oil drilling activities.

Eventually, they hope to force the suspension of all urban oil drilling in Los Angeles.Joanne Kim, who lives with her family fewer than 200 feet away from the Murphy site, urged residents to write. “We need people to team up and get in touch with the AQMD in writing,” said Kim. “File the forms…copies of reports, violations, days of inspection.”  Kim plants her own fruits and vegetables, and said she is concerned about oil drilling affecting the soil and water as well as air quality.

Brenna Norton, an organizer for Food and Water Watch who created a petition in support of a citywide fracking moratorium, identified 12 “air toxic” chemicals that are often used in drilling.  “Some of these, like crystalline silica, methanol and hydrochloric acid are known carcinogens that harm the heart, liver, brain and respiratory and immune systems,” said Norton.  Her petition contends that fracking can “contaminate drinking water supplies, cost taxpayers in L.A. hundreds of millions of dollars, wreak havoc on property values, release potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and cause earthquakes.”


Sign at the Murphy site. | Stephanie Monte

This groundswell of public dissent in West Adams prompted City Councilman Herb Wesson of District 10 to help constituents seek a temporary suspension of construction of any new oil wells.

Participants in the recent meeting said it is difficult for anyone who is not employed by FMOG to discern what is happening behind the closed gates at the Murphy Drill site at 2126 W. Adams Blvd, which is within walking distance of their homes, churches and schools. Some neighbors have complained of loud noises, tremors and illnesses, while others have become worried about the debris and ashes that land on their property from the site.

Wesson assured his constituents that on Jan. 7, the city ordered the drilling projects to cease operations at the Murphy site. He said inspectors have been visiting the site on a daily basis to ensure that no drilling or construction work takes place.


“Be Safe” sign at the Jefferson site at Jefferson and Budlong. | Stephanie Monte

“They have finished the drilling and probably the casing of the new wells. That’s when Wesson came in and said, ‘Shut it down.” explained C. Tom Williams, a retired oil field specialist and Sierra Club of California CalFrack coordinator.  “Right now, the drilling has been completed but not the stimulation and completion of the well in connecting it to the pipeline,” said Williams.  If production has stopped, late January and early February would be a normal time period for FMOG to be off the site pending “completion.”  However, Williams said he was confident that if “the big red Haliburton trucks” were to reappear, that would indicate the company was initiating work again.

Another drilling site, located near USC, acquired a spotty reputation in Los Angeles after U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and an Environmental Protection Agency official reportedly became sick after a visit. The site is operated by Allenco, which some have confused with Freeport McMoRan. In the wake of that incident, Allenco’s operations there ceased temporarily. Since then, John Demartini, a spokesman for Freeport McMoRan, has emphasized that the company is not affiliated with the site Boxer visited.


A look into the Murphy oil site. | Stephanie Monte

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church asked community members to be prepared to stick with their efforts for the long haul.   “Our preferred destination is permanent suspension of urban oil drilling in the West Adams district and eventually throughout Los Angeles,” he said.

Politicians appear to be taking notice.

In an earlier community meeting at Holman, state Sen. Holly Mitchell announced that she was drafting legislation that would ban fracking, acidizing and all well stimulation methods until environmental impacts can be assessed.

Rep. Karen Bass of the state legislature agreed to petition the EPA to evaluate the health effects of local drilling. She also committed to working with Sen. Boxer to explore strategies that would close the drill site.

City council members Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin have introduced a motion to place a moratorium on fracking and related “extreme drilling” technologies throughout L.A. and along the city’s water supply routes, which run halfway through the state.

The West Adams community members hope to collect all complaints by Feb. 9, which they will submit to the City of Los Angeles for further review.

Correction: Allenco operates the drilling site near USC. An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that the site was run by Freeport McMoRan. 

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