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Los Angeles Bans New Oil and Gas Wells and Will Phase Out Old Ones Over Five Years

Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
  • The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to ban new oil and gas wells in the country's second most populous city and phase out existing wells over a period of five years.
  • The measure follows decades of complaints by residents who've grappled with health problems from living near polluting drilling sites.
  • More than half a million people in LA live within a quarter-mile of active oil and gas wells that release air pollutants like benzene and hydrogen sulfide.

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to ban new oil and gas wells and to phase out existing wells over a period of five years, following decades of complaints by residents who have grappled with health problems from living near drilling sites.

The measure, introduced by Council members Nury Martinez and Paul Krekorian in December 2020, is part of a broader push by the county and the state of California to establish more distance between drilling and people and transition away from climate-changing fossil fuels.

The region includes one of the largest urban oil fields in the country, with more than 5,000 active wells in LA County and more than 1,000 active or idle wells within city limits. More than half a million people in LA live within a quarter-mile of active wells that release air pollutants like benzene, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter and formaldehyde, and the pollution disproportionately affects Black and Latino residents.

"Today, we are reinforcing our commitment to environmental justice," Martinez said during a news conference on Wednesday morning.  

"For far too long, neighborhood drilling has disproportionally affected the health of our low-income communities of color," Martinez said. "From freeways to power plants, our frontline communities bear the brunt of pollution and climate impacts."

Research shows that people who live near oil and gas drilling sites are at greater risk of preterm births, asthma, respiratory disease and cancer. Living close to wells is also linked to weakened lung function and wheezing, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research.

"This is not just a matter of public health and safety … it's also a matter of justice," Jasmin Vargas, a senior organizer at the nonprofit Food & Water Watch, told council members before the vote. "I think this day has been a long time coming."

Oil tanks wedged between homes in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Emma Newburger | CNBC
Oil tanks wedged between homes in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The oil and gas industry has strongly opposed such measures, arguing that banning and phasing out oil and gas will hike gas prices and harm jobs. Supporters have urged that the city must ensure that fossil fuel jobs are replaced with clean energy jobs.

Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, an industry group representing nearly 400 oil and gas companies, said the measure would essentially be "taking someone's property without compensation, particularly one which is duly permitted and highly regulated."

"Shutting down domestic energy production not only puts Californians out of work and reduces taxes that pay for vital services, but it makes us more dependent on imported foreign oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq that is tankered into LA's crowded port," Zierman wrote in an email to CNBC.

Los Angeles is the third government entity in the county to pass an oil and gas ban.

Culver City last year passed an ordinance to phase out oil and gas extraction in its portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within five years and to require that all wells be plugged and abandoned in that time period. And the LA County Board of Supervisors voted last year to ban new wells and phase out existing wells in unincorporated areas.

In October, California moved to ban oil wells located within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and populated areas after decades years of complaints by residents and activist groups. If passed, the rule would not ban existing wells within those areas but instead require new pollution controls.

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