GWNC Struggles with Resolution Increasing Health and Safety Buffer Zone for Oil Wells

GWNC Board failed to approve a Community Impact Statement extending health and safety buffer zones between residential areas and oil drilling wells.

After struggling over specific language, the GWNC narrowly defeated passage of a Community Impact Statement (the official way neighborhood councils can comment on City Council actions) to support increasing health and human buffer zones between oil wells and residences.

The GWNC’s Sustainability Committee has tried several times to convince the board of directors of the GWNC to put forward a Community Impact Statement (CIS) that would support increasing the current buffer zones from a few as 50 feet to as much as 2,500 feet. On the first round, members of the board asked if there were even any wells of concern in the GWNC area.

Sustainability Committee member Dan Kegel, local resident and contributor to the Buzz on environmental issues, produced a map for members showing there are quite a few wells nearby. According to Kegel, there are almost 80 plugged wells with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s geographic boundaries, including one on the grounds of Wilshire Country Club.  Kegel said that some of the wells could be re-activated. He cited a recent well blow-out in Play del Rey as an example of the potential problems presented by old wells.

“This is not a theoretical problem,” Kegel told the GWNC Board members. He urged the board to support a CIS, saying “The Sustainability Committee is recommending that we [the GWNC] ask the City to look at oil production in the city near neighborhoods and ask for a serious setback.”

Screenshot of map available online at  Well Finder showing wells in Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council area. The state Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) provides the data contained in this website for informational purposes.

The current code calls for a set back of 500 feet unless there is a landscaped berm, then the setback is only 50 feet. The proposed CIS stated the setbacks should be more like 2500 feet based on a review of studies compiled by StandLA, an environmental justice organization seeking to put an end to drilling in urban neighborhoods, particularly low income neighborhoods.

“Whereas studies show that health risks decrease with increasing distance to wells [Rabinowitz 2015], that a buffer of 1,250 feet between active wells and human activity is insufficient, and that a buffer of at least 2,500 feet between active oil wells and sensitive land uses such as schools, churches or daycare facilities may be necessary to protect community health from oil and gas extraction [Lewis 2018],” stated the proposed CIS.

Caroline Moser, board representative from Windsor Square,  objected to the statement, saying it was “overreaching and the council didn’t have enough information to make an informed recommendation.” She invited Kegel and Julie Stromberg, chair of the Sustainability Committee to attend the  next GWNC Land Use Committee which she chairs and present the statement again.

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are hundreds of oil wells in the city of LA,” said Charles D’Atri, board representative from Larchmont Village. “The City of LA produced 35% of the worlds’ oil in the 1930s. Is this motion practical or useful, I don’t know,” said D’Atri, “but it shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

Another board member, Philip Farhar from the Melrose area added that he didn’t know enough about the topic to vote. After some additional discussion, the motion failed with 6 in favor;  7  opposed and  2 abstentions.

While disappointed with the vote, Kegel and Stromberg said they would not give up on the issue.

“We are definitely not going to abandon this issue,” Stromberg told the Buzz after the meeting. “We think it’s imperative to take a position and urge the city to deal with this issue. We want to come up with a statement that the majority of the board feels strongly they can support and we are confident we can do that. We just need more time.

Kegel told the Buzz he wanted to work with the Land Use Committee to more thoroughly understand the concerns of the board.

“I want to understand why the people who are opposed are uncomfortable and craft more specific language they can support,” said Kegel. “This is a very important issue and the City needs to hear from us.”

In 2016, Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed petroleum engineer Uduak-Joe Ntuk to a long vacant position of oil administrator for the city.

“I will focus on doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of L.A.’s communities, while taking a measured approach to the many complex issues raised by fossil fuel extraction in a large city,” Ntuk said in a statement released by Garcetti, reported the LA Times.

Recently Ntuk ordered some well shuttered in South Los Angeles because they could not be operated safely. Residents in the University Park are had complained of  nosebleeds, nausea and other ailments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

2 thoughts on “GWNC Struggles with Resolution Increasing Health and Safety Buffer Zone for Oil Wells

  1. Good article! Just wondering if the “building structures” that surround some of the active drilling sites in greater L.A. are built to contain benzene and other gases and chemicals that are by-products if oil drilling and which are known to be hazards and public health risk factors? Does any Gov’t agency do oversight of the companies who own/ maintain/ operate and build said structures and /or drilling? Are these companies required by any regulatory agency to periodically notify residents and businesses in the area that they are operating oil drilling facility in the area? I think there are probably hundreds of people living near these sites who are unaware oil drilling is going on in their areas. There would be more interest in safety concerns if more people were aware of the existence of the drilling.

    1. Thanks! As far as I know, the structures around e.g. the oil well on Pico are just decorative.

      https://dpw.lacity.org/office-petroleum-and-natural-gas-administration-and-safety lists the bodies that oversee wells in the city, including the EPA, the state’s Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ( https://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/Oil-and-Gas.aspx ), the state’s Air Quality Management District ( http://www.aqmd.gov/ ) and in theory the city’s Petroleum Administrator.

      I just checked, and it looks like neighbors need to be notificated when ‘fracking’ aka ‘well stimulating’; see https://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/WSTNeighborNotificationAndWaterSampling.aspx
      I don’t know when else it’s required.

      I hope that answers some of your questions!

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