The Los Angeles City Council has voted 12-0 to ban new oil wells within the city, and to phase out all current oil wells within 20 years or less.
Los Angeles may not be famous nationally for oil, as that industry is typically associated with other states, and California is thought to be an environmental leader. While the state does push forward environmental policy, there is actually a long history of oil production in Southern California, with the state at one point making up 38% of the entire US national supply of oil largely due to production from these fields in LA.
But California’s oil industry has been in decline from its early dominance. As the state moves away from fossil fuels (and other states don’t), tens of thousands of wells have gone idle statewide and the companies operating them often do not have the money to close them down properly, leaving to a potential multibillion-dollar problem for the state going forward.
The oil fields in LA are often situated directly in dense areas of the city, with consequent health effects on the populations which live nearest to them. And importantly, these areas of the city tend to have higher concentrations of black and brown residents, meaning the negative health effects of oil drilling are felt in a racially disproportionate manner.
Beyond the global climate and air pollution effects of burning oil, oil drilling has negative local effects on human health. It causes cancer, liver damage, immunodeficiency, neurological problems, respiratory issues, birth defects, and the list goes on.
LA county’s oil wells have been called the largest system of urban oil production in the country due to their proximity to dense housing. Currently, there are 26 oil and gas fields and 5,000 wells in the city, not all of which are active, and two drill sites on city-owned properties. The highest concentration of them are in the Harbor region, near the port of Long Beach.
The push to ban these wells was largely led by local political groups Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Communities for a Better Environment. They have been working for decades to stop oil drilling in the city.
Los Angeles city’s new move not only bans new oil wells, but also directs all oil companies operating in the city to plan to shut down in a maximum of 20 years. Beyond that, the city will conduct their own studies to determine whether individual companies operating in the city can recoup their investments in less than 20 years. If they can, they may be forced to shut down even sooner.
The vote was opposed by the California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents independent oil and gas producers in California and threatened to explore legal avenues to block the move. They incorrectly claimed that oil production does not have detrimental health effects, even though it does.
They also suggested that this would result in increased imports of oil into Los Angeles and therefore more associated pollution from oil tankers in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Finally, they pointed to a 2020 study by a consulting group which claimed that the oil industry is responsible for $250 million in tax revenue for the city. This number represents about 2% of LA’s budget, or about as much as the city spends annually on public parks.
Well, this is just great news that we hope to see in more places as soon as possible. And on the same day as the first ban on natural gas by a county on the US East Coast. Let’s hope this momentum goes somewhere.
I’ve seen and driven past these oil fields many times, and they sure do contribute to a sense of blight in the city. In fact, when I went up to test drive the electric Arcimoto FUV at a nice urban park, we didn’t realize this park was right next to a massive oil field. Which led to an ironic juxtaposition in the background of one of our rolling shots:
But that’s just aesthetics. The real issue here is the health of the residents. And while it will take a while for that to turn around, the earlier we start the better.
In particular, the fact that the city will conduct independent studies to determine how long it will take companies to recoup investments is hilarious to me. I love the idea that the city will shut down wells as soon as they become profitable.
Of course, I’d rather they shut them down immediately and let the oil companies lose money, as they deserve to for harming people and lying for so long, but at least it’s one step better than letting them continue to profit for decades.
The oil companies’ objections to this are also ridiculous, as most oil industry statements are. First they start with a lie stating that oil drilling doesn’t harm human health, as we’re used to hearing from them.
But then they turn around and claim that shutting down oil production will actually be bad for the environment, because then Los Angeles will have to import more oil from dirty polluting oil tankers. So… you’re saying oil is the problem then? Well, good point! Maybe we should shut it down then! Thank you California Independent Petroleum Association, good suggestion!