Environmentalists and local activists are protesting a proposal by Culver City to allow up to 30 new oil wells to be drilled in the next 15 years. Even more controversially, the city's proposed regulations would allow for fracking and other forms of well stimulation.
“I know that some of the city council members have been vocal about wanting to protect their residents from oil and gas production,” says Maya Golden-Krasner, a senior attorney with the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I don’t know why this is what they came up with.”
She adds: “They shouldn’t be drilling new wells. Really, we’re at the point where we really need to be looking at ways to phase out oil drilling.”
Roughly 10 percent of the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field lies within Culver City's boundaries.
After a raucous public meeting on Monday night, Culver City Council voted to extend the public comment period for the drilling proposal's Environmental Impact Report (or EIR). The extension is a small victory for opponents of new drilling.
“There’s a lot of people in the community that would love to just end oil drilling. The reality is the oil operations are going to exist. We’re trying to regulate it.” —Culver City Councilman Jim Clarke
The city's mayor, Jeff Cooper, told L.A. Weekly after the meeting that he does not support the current proposal. (Culver City has a five-member city council, with a rotating mayor.)
“Personally, I don’t believe 30 new oil wells are good for Culver City,” Cooper says. “I don’t think any new oil wells are good for Culver City. We’re surrounding the largest urban oil field in the world. I get concerned for a lot of the reasons our residents are concerned — potential seismic activity, chemicals used for extraction, other environmental consequences that could occur. As a local resident, I’m very, very concerned.”
Various studies have found a variety of adverse health effects that come from living within a mile or two of an active oil well, including a higher risk of birth defects and asthma. Regarding fracking, a 2015 report by the California Council on Science and Technology found that “direct impacts of hydraulic fracturing appear small but have not been investigated” and that “disposal of produced water by underground injection has caused earthquakes elsewhere.”
“Why on earth would we expand operations in urban centers where people live?” says David Braun, director of Rootskeeper and founder of the Oil Money Out campaign. “Any expansion of toxic practices in urban areas is just a bad idea.”
Culver City's proposed regulations mandate that any new oil well be 400 feet from any home or business. That's the right idea, says activists — but 400 feet is still way close.
“Even Dallas, Texas, has a setback of 1,500 feet,” Golden-Krasner says. “And that’s Texas. I think we can do a little bit better than Texas.”
Culver City Councilman Jim Clarke, who sits on the Oil Drilling Subcommittee, defended the proposed regulations.
“There’s a lot of people in the community that would love to just end oil drilling,” Clarke says. “We would be sued. The reality is the oil operations are going to exist. We’re trying to regulate it.”
As to why the city proposed allowing 30 new wells, Clarke says, “We picked an amount that we felt was reasonable.” Allowing no new wells, he says, would open the city up to lawsuits from oil companies.
The Environmental Impact Report also proposes a ban on fracking, and the city council, in finalizing its plans, could adopt that ban.
“That’s a discretionary decision that the council would have to make,” Clarke says. “There’s no appetite on the council to allow fracking.”
Neither Cooper nor Clarke will vote on the final version of the oil plan, as they are both termed out. The vote will take place after City Council elections in April 2018.