Youth groups and community organizations sued the City of Los Angeles last week for allegedly allowing oil companies to drill hundreds of contaminating wells near homes which they say exposed black and Latino residents to health and safety risks in violation of state environmental laws. The lawsuit — brought on behalf of youths living near oil drilling sites in South Los Angeles and Wilmington — contends the city systematically violated the California Environmental Quality Act by routinely exempting new wells and other changes at oil extraction sites from required environmental reviews. A call for comment left with a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer was not immediately answered.
The suit also alleges an illegal and discriminatory pattern of creating weaker environmental protections for drill sites in areas with a vast majority of lower-income Latinos and blacks. For example, according to the complaint, 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 Los Angeles and Wilmington. These rigs fill adjacent homes with toxic fumes that closed windows cannot keep out, the plaintiffs contend.
The city also required heavy soundproofing for West Los Angeles drill sites with neighboring homes, but left drill sites in South Los Angeles and Wilmington exposed, according to the lawsuit, and the noise of diesel rigs driving pipes into the ground robs residents of peace and quiet in their homes.
“Change is happening in other communities, but here my lungs feel heavy, my walls are shaking, and my family’s plants are dying,” said Angel Ocegueda, 15, who lives near a drill site in Wilmington.
The lawsuit states that oil operations in Los Angeles commonly employ toxic chemicals that are known to cause respiratory diseases, cancer and other health problems. 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 Limon, 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 a mile of an oil well, according to the complaint, which said that in Wilmington, for example, the city has authorized more than 540 oil wells.
“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.”