Community Outraged After Oil Company Skirts Law to
Avoid Costly Cleanup
The Los Angeles Times reports local residents had urged the Los Angeles Fire Department to demand the company either restart or close the idle wells, hoping to leverage a section of city code that would force the wells’ closure in the interest of community health and safety. Instead, Freeport reactivated the idle wells, restoring the flow of natural gas just across the street from the Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Studies, named after environmental leaders Rachel Carson and Al Gore.
STAND-L.A., a coalition of community groups dedicated to protecting public health from neighborhood drilling, wants immediate action to be taken against the company for converting water injection wells into gas producing wells without obtaining necessary city approval. The group is calling on the City Attorney to investigate whether the company intentionally chose to circumvent the law and put the health of Angelenos at risk in order to avoid the costs of cleanup.
This would not be the first time Freeport-McMoRan prioritized company interests over the lives of local community members, often ignoring the law without any accountability. “The City Attorney should immediately open a criminal investigation into whether FMOG failed to obtain the required permits," argued Richard Parks, President of the non-profit Redeemer Community Partnership. "Furthermore, the Los Angeles Fire Department should move quickly to protect taxpayers by enforcing city code that requires hundreds of idle wells to be either activated or shut down. For too long the city’s elected officials have supported oil interests over the public interest, trading public health and safety for corporate profits. We need our city leaders to move quickly to protect its residents, first and foremost.”
Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas faces growing debt amidst falling oil prices and could be stalling to avoid costs of plugging the wells. If the company waits for bankruptcy, the burden would fall on on local taxpayers to pay for the cleanup, similar to what could happen at the oil site located at Beverly Hills High School. Veneco, the company leasing the well from the Beverly Hills School District, may go bankrupt before it can fulfill a condition of its lease requiring the site be cleaned by March 2017. Should Veneco file for bankruptcy before that time, the school district would be left responsible for all costs associated with paying for the cleanup. Freeport-McMoRan could be taking a similar tack with its Washington Boulevard site, hoping to avoid paying up to $500,000 to permanently close each well.
“Clearly, the City of Los Angeles has little to no idea what is going on with idle oil and gas wells within its jurisdiction," continued Richard Parks. "Across Los Angeles, oil companies have failed to shut down oil wells that have been idle for decades. We call on the City to join with the community and take action to have them abandoned. At a time when analysts are questioning whether Freeport-McMoRan can avoid bankruptcy, the City's lapse of oversight potentially places taxpayers at financial risk of a costly cleanup.”
Beyond the legal implications of their actions, Freeport-McMoRan put the health and safety of local community members at risk when it chose to reactivate the wells located next to an elementary school. When the Los Angeles Unified School District initially planned to open the school, the company previously operating the site, Plains Exploration & Production, chose to leave the wells idle, saying that the close proximity to the school would make it too difficult to operate the wells while complying with air quality regulations set by the SCAQMD. Freeport-McMoRan knowingly placed the health of children and nearby residents at risk by re-opening its wells and refusing to responsibly close and cleanup the site after being idle for more than five years.
“Exposure to hazardous gas and air pollutants from these oil wells put families – children especially – at risk for not just short term health impacts such as nosebleeds and headaches, but long-term issues that result from cumulative exposure, such as asthma, heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer." said Martha Dina Arguello of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a member of STAND-LA. "Oil wells don’t belong in anyone’s backyard, and how ironic that we see this happening across the street from a school named after two important environmentalists in our recent history. This is yet another example of Freeport-McMoRan, blatantly disregarding the health and safety of Angelenos.”
STAND-L.A. Justice (“STAND-L.A.”) is an environmental coalition of community groups that seek to end neighborhood drilling to protect the health and safety of Angelenos on the front lines of urban oil extraction.