Los Angeles sued over oil well hazards faced by minorities

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2015 8:27 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Poor, predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Los Angeles bear a disproportionate brunt of environmental hazards and noise pollution from oil drilling due to a city regulatory system applied in a discriminatory fashion, activists said in a lawsuit filed on Friday.

The lawsuit accuses the city government of permitting oil companies to drill hundreds of wells near residential areas without conducting environmental studies required under state law to assess public health risks posed by energy development.

The bulk of those drilling operations have ended up concentrated in and around low-income minority areas of South Los Angeles and the city's industry-heavy community of Wilmington, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, stricter enforcement of environmental rules in more affluent districts, even where oil fields are present, has largely shielded wealthier communities from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, the lawsuit said.

The 42-page complaint was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by several groups, including Youth for Environmental Justice and the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition. No companies were named in the lawsuit.

The fossil fuel industry has a long history in Los Angeles, but the full extent of oil extraction in the nation's second-most populous city is unknown because of poor record-keeping, said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the suit.

A scientific report released this year found more than 30,000 Los Angeles-area residents live within 300 feet (92 meters) of an oil well, a center spokesman said.

Representatives for Mayor Eric Garcetti declined immediate comment.

Although more people are exposed to the environmental effects of oil fields in Los Angeles than in any other U.S. metropolitan area, the impacts are not distributed equitably, the lawsuit says.

For instance, the city allows loud, high-polluting diesel-powered rigs at oil wells in South Los Angeles and Wilmington, while requiring cleaner-running electric rigs in wealthier, largely white areas on its Westside, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also says the city requires more soundproofing at Westside drill sites than elsewhere.

Residents near Wilmington oil field where one company operates 540 wells describe life there as horrendous, Golden-Krasner said.

"They can't sleep, they have respiratory problems, they have rashes and burning eyes, and so it's really difficult for people who live nearby, particularly in the black and Latino areas where they have less protective conditions," she said.

The suit identified 12 drill sites where the plaintiffs said city officials exempted the projects from review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The case is Youth For Environmental Justice v. City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court, No. BC600373.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman)