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Urban Oil/Gas Drilling Foes Hit the Streets in Los Angeles

With a three-month-old natural gas storage well leak dominating local news, urban Los Angeles residents opposed to oil/gas drilling activity in their neighborhoods are back in protest mode, demanding more attention from the city's planning department regarding a longstanding Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. (FMO&G) oil well site.

For the past three years, periodic resident demonstrations have erupted, protesting plans of an FMO&G unit to flare associated gas at a site in a working class neighborhood near the University of Southern California (USC) campus, and separately near A USC-owned site operated by Allenco Energy Co. (see Daily GPI, April 28, 2015).

A coalition of environmental justice groups representing Latino and African-American neighborhoods in lower-income areas of Los Angeles last November sued the city, alleging uneven treatment of urban drilling sites (see Daily GPI, Nov. 10, 2015).

Residents are again complaining about odors and noise at the FMO&G drill site, which produces about 300 boe/d, and are asking why city planning officials have not followed up on earlier complaints. It is part of a citywide push to get more local oversight of drilling, which reportedly takes place at more than 1,000 sites within the Los Angeles boundaries.

As residents are doing with state and federal officials over the Porter Ranch storage field leak, south-central Los Angeles residents want the city to do more daily oversight of the urban drilling locations.

Officials at Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan told NGI that operations and production have remained the same in recent months at its Jefferson Boulevard well site. "[We] have suspended plans to drill new wells at the facility due to commodity price considerations and other factors," a FMO&G spokesperson said.

The drilling operator contends that the drill site has had an "excellent" track record of regulatory compliance, citing the fact that the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has conducted multiple surprise inspections at the drilling site in the past two years, and routinely has found no evidence of violations that would suggest the facility poses a risk to the public.

SCAQMD records allegedly show that there were two violations found at the Jefferson Boulevard site for excessive emissions, but the company characterized the citations as minor, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

"These facts have been shared with the city of Los Angeles planning department as well as the resident-activists that are orchestrating the harassment campaign," the spokesperson said. "The same activists are on record stating their primary goal is to force an end to all oil production in the city, regardless of whether the facilities are being operated in compliance with all relevant health/safety regulations."

A complicating factor is the fact that when the drilling site was approved by the city originally in 1965, the company was directed by city officials to keep some adjacent vacant buildings as a "buffer zone." However in 1999, the city changed that and allowed the housing to be sold and once again occupied. The deeds for the property all specified oil operations next door could cause odors, noise and safety hazards.

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