There are over 5,000 active oil wells in Los Angeles County – 850 in the city of Los Angeles – according to county officials. Residents living near wells experience nosebleeds, nausea, breathing problems and dizziness due to the oil-drilling operations, diesel truck traffic and other factors.
Those neighborhoods include low-income and communities of color, where regulatory and zoning barriers offer little help according to a 2015 study by the Liberty Hill Foundation.
On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity said of the 15 hardest hit communities that receive the brunt of air pollution from oil-drilling sites, 11 of them are in the most disadvantaged areas including South LA and Long Beach, according to three years of data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Martha Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said there has been a general lack of leadership from Gov. Jerry Brown regarding regulations that should protect communities near oil extraction sites.
On Monday, Brown signed a bill mandating 100 percent clean energy by 2045 and an executive order to make the Golden State carbon neutral by the same year. Last week, he signed a bill to block the Trump administration’s efforts to expand offshore drilling in state waters.
Argüello said this all rings hollow.
“Everyone is touting his leadership,” said Argüello, who also co-chairs the group Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND) LA. “What do you tell people who live in the urban core? It is making people sick and that to us is a failure.”
She said state lawmakers need to push harder for justice and health at the center of climate policies.
“I’m glad he signed the bill (to curb the offshore drilling),” said Argüello. “But why do coastal communities get more protection?”
The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said Monday that Brown has not addressed the oil industry directly, despite his efforts to make California a cleaner state. As Brown’s final term ends, environmental advocates began the Brown’s Last Chance campaign last year to freeze new drilling permits and end fossil fuel extraction in the state.
The watchdog said Brown ignored the campaign’s requests, which include a 2,500-foot barrier between homes and oil drilling sites. They will be running a TV ad during the international environmental summit Brown is hosting this week calling out his refusal to shut down neighborhood oil wells.
A phone call to the governor’s office was not returned by press time.