Youth Groups Challenge City Officials’ Illegal Approval of Hundreds of Oil Wells
LOS ANGELES— Youth groups and community organizations sued the City of Los Angeles today for allowing oil companies to drill hundreds of contaminating wells near homes without conducting mandatory environmental studies, and for exposing black and Latino residents to disproportionate health and safety risks by imposing less protective rules in their neighborhoods.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Youth for Environmental Justice, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition (SCYLC), and the Center for Biological Diversity, says the city has illegally allowed oil companies to drill hundreds of oil wells in residential neighborhoods across the city without assessing health and environmental threats linked to conventional drilling and extreme extraction techniques, like acidizing. The suit charges that the city has a long-standing practice of rubberstamping oil projects as exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, California’s most comprehensive environmental law.
The suit also alleges an illegal and discriminatory pattern of creating weaker environmental protections for drill sites in areas with a vast majority of people of color, like Wilmington and South Los Angeles. For example, the City requires Westside sites to use electric rigs to reduce diesel emissions and noise pollution, but allows loud and contaminating diesel rigs in South L.A. and Wilmington. These rigs fill adjacent homes with toxic fumes that closed windows cannot keep out. The City also required heavy soundproofing for West L.A. drill sites with neighboring homes, but left drill sites in South L.A. and Wilmington exposed to their neighbors. The deafening din of diesel rigs driving pipes into the ground robs residents of peace and quiet in their homes.
The young plaintiffs are questioning why their communities are subjected to a discriminatory standard that places their families in harm’s way, especially when safer energy alternatives already exist. “We need to create a safe future. It’s time to create and learn from new solutions,” said Angel Ocegueda, age 15, who lives near the Warren E&P drill site in Wilmington. “Change is happening in other communities, but here my lungs feel heavy, my walls are shaking, and my family’s plants are dying. Why are we not investing in my future?”
Oil operations in Los Angeles commonly employ toxic chemicals that are known to cause respiratory diseases, cancer and other health problems. Young people of color and those living in low-income communities are most affected by oil drilling, since they are more likely to live in communities that already face a disproportionate share of environmental and health risks. Children and people with asthma and heart conditions are especially susceptible to health effects from pollutants associated with oil and gas development.
“The city’s practice of exempting drilling activities from CEQA not only blatantly violates the law’s mandates, but also recklessly disregards the severe health and safety risks that no child should have to grow up with,” said Gladys Limón, one of the attorneys working on the case. “The City’s practices also result in disparate and disproportionate environmental burdens on communities of color subjected to inherently dangerous oil drilling operations.”
Hundreds of thousands of Angelenos live within one mile of an oil well. In Wilmington, for example, the City has authorized more than 540 oil wells. In South Los Angeles, the AllenCo drill site has 11 active wells out of 21 existing wells, approximately 100 feet from a multi-unit residential housing development and a high school for developmentally disabled youth. Residents of these neighborhoods often experience health problems including headaches, rashes and severe asthma.
“Oil companies are drilling near homes and schools while L.A. officials do virtually nothing to assess the health threats from these dirty and dangerous wells,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil extraction is a toxic industrial activity that doesn’t belong in any neighborhood. It’s tragic that city officials are doing so little to protect communities of color from hazardous oil operations.”
The plaintiffs are urging City officials to prioritize the health of their communities. Joshua Navarro, age 16, lives near the AllenCo drill site in South L.A. that was recently fined $99,000 by the federal EPA for releasing toxic fumes into his neighborhood. "People are always saying that the youth are the future,” he said, “but we can’t sit around and wait for the future to come when oil drilling is hurting us now."
Youth for Environmental Justice (“Youth-EJ”) is a youth membership group with hundreds of high school and college student members in Southeast Los Angeles and Wilmington committed to securing environmental justice in their communities.
South Central Youth Leadership Coalition (SCYLC) is a grassroots group that grew organically in response and in defense of the health and safety of community members impacted by oil and natural gas extraction by the AllenCo Energy excavations. SCYLC’s mission is to work with all youth and collaborative allies in advocating for the environmental health, safety, and overall, human rights of the South Central Los Angeles community
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of the Earth’s biodiversity.
Counsel for the plaintiffs are Gladys Limón of Communities for a Better Environment, Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC, Maya Golden-Krasner of Center for Biological Diversity, and Adam B. Wolf of Peiffer Rosca Wolf Abdullah Carr & Kane LLP.
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.