LOS ANGELES (CN) — The operators of a neighborhood oil-drilling operation will face criminal charges for environmental and health violations stemming from noxious fumes that made south Los Angeles residents ill.
Six years ago, AllenCo Energy voluntarily shut down its site after state inspectors became ill during a site visit. For years, residents had complained of waking with nose bleeds, headaches and other ailments they blamed on operations at the oil facility.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles owns the property in the University Park neighborhood near the University of Southern California and leases it to the oil operators. The oil drill site is surrounded by homes and the private Catholic Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles.
The St. James oil wells located at the AllenCo site have had numerous leaks including in the fall of 2019 according to LA City Attorney Mike Feuer.
The operators did not turn on a monitoring system that would have tracked any harmful vapors that could have leaked from the site. Feuer said AllenCo refused to turn on the system.
The misdemeanor complaint names AllenCo Energy and the company’s officers, Timothy Parker and Clifford Peter Allen. The charges announced Tuesday are for failure to comply with an order from the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) to put in place a plan to shut down the operation.
The wells at the site have not been in use for several years, which means they are nonoperational according to the criminal complaint filed on Monday.
CalGEM ordered the 21 oil wells depressurized, but the oil operators appealed the decision and have not complied with the state’s orders. CalGEM asked that the court reaffirm the order in March but there has been no response from the oil operators.
The Los Angeles Fire Department have also issued notices on the wells’ nonoperational status.
“These sweeping new charges show that we won’t allow AllenCo to continue allegedly defying the law and disregarding its neighbors when it comes to environmental safety and health protections,” Feuer said in a statement. “This is a matter of environmental justice.”
Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of the nonprofit Esperanza Community Housing Corporation and organizers behind the neighborhood’s People Not Pozos (People, Not Oil Wells) initiative called the charges against AllenCo long overdue.
“Even during the site’s long closure, our residents witnessed many leaks from the oil wells,” said Ibrahim in a statement. “When they raised concerns for their health to the proper agencies, they received an utter lack of responsiveness. It’s been a long time coming, but this is a great relief to the communities that AllenCo is being charged and will be criminally compelled to resolve these problems.”
Community organizer Hugo Garcia with Esperanza Housing said, “So far, state laws that hold oil companies responsible for cleaning up idle oil wells have not been enforced, and it points to the need for new laws in the books to protect people, not polluters.”
In a statement, CalGEM state oil and gas supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk said the AllenCo Energy “facility continues to be a potential risk to public health, safety, and the environment.”
An email and phone call to the AllenCo operations were not immediately answered for comment.