Pastor of Holman United Methodist Church Kelvin Sauls, leads protest rally in front of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese’s headquarters. (courtesy photo)

Concerned citizen ask the Archdiocese to terminate its lease with AllenCo, an oil drilling company who was fined $99,000 by the U.S. EPA for endangering the health of nearby residents, by failing to prevent the release of toxic emissions following their November inspection.

Over 50 protesters convened outside the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese’s headquarters, carrying signs with messages from Pope Francis’ message on climate change and prayer candles with the image of St. Bernadette, the patron-saint of asthma patients.

“Pope Francis’ leadership calls on all of us to care for our common home and for our neighbors who are the victims of environmental injustice. Leasing this land to AllenCo, an oil company that poisoned its community for years, is an act that promotes environmental injustice here in Los Angeles,” said Pastor Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church, a STAND-L.A.  The member-based organization, whose congregation worships near the Murphy oil drilling site in the West Adams neighborhood of South Los Angeles, is a coalition of community groups that are dedicated to safeguarding the well-being, health and safety of Angelenos living and working near oil drilling sites. “By ending their lease to AllenCo, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has an opportunity to stand on the right side of history with the community it serves and with the teachings of the Church.”

The protest came a day after over 40 other Catholic organizations around the world announced the largest ever faith-based divestment from fossil fuels, prompting protesters to call for greater environmental leadership from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. AllenCo and Murphy Oil drilling were the locations discussed.

The AllenCo property is one site among thousands of active oil wells that drill throughout Los Angeles, disproportionately close to low-income communities of color. Chronic exposure to the chemicals used in oil drilling – like benzene and hydrogen sulfide – leave residents susceptible to symptoms ranging from nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, asthma and other respiratory illness, and increased risk of damage to the reproductive system, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“When the AllenCo facility was operating, symptoms of headache, dizziness, nausea and respiratory distress were evident among residents in the adjoining community,” said Angelo Bellomo, of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.  “Our experience has shown that health protective measures above and beyond the existing regulations are imperative when neighborhoods are this close to industry.”

“I am a resident of Wilmington, CA.” said Ashley Hernandez. “When I first arrived to my community, I didn’t see the smoke stacks, sense the odors, and of course, had absolutely no clue of the magnitude of importance my community meant for the City of LA. Growing up in Wilmington, refinery explosions followed by warnings not to drink out of the school water faucets, and friends that couldn’t play anymore during recess due to our headaches, nose bleeds, and their asthma was the norm. As many of us here know first-hand, oil drilling is not just a problem around the AllenCo site in University Park in South L.A., but all throughout our city, especially in my community of Wilmington. The truth is that it’s not a coincidence that the health symptoms experienced by my community are largely the same as those experienced by neighbors around Allen co.”

After the protest and rally, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released the following statement:

“In our understanding, AllenCo, which has a long-term land lease, is still in the process of meeting the requirements and obtaining the final permits needed to operate safely on the site. The Archdiocese is working with the Mayor’s Office, the City of Los Angeles Oil Manager, and AllenCo to explore possible alternative uses for the site in our continued commitment to the health and well-being of the entire community. “

Stand – L.A. responded:

“The STAND-L.A. coalition is asking the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to use its power as a landlord and fulfill its moral obligation as a faith leader to terminate its lease with AllenCo Energy, Inc., an oil company that threatens community health and safety. The Archdiocese has an opportunity to stand with the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, not only protect the community they serve, but also to defend its dignity.

Part of acknowledging the dignity of the community is also acknowledging their right to participate in creating a solution. We urge the Archdiocese to include residents in conversations with the City, especially as their well-being is at stake.”

The AllenCo Energy Inc., reopening is pending. The rally and the pending reopening of AllenCo come as the City of Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, prepares a study on the health impacts of urban oil drilling, due in early November.