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Local Control on Drilling Becoming Bigger Issue in Southern California

While Colorado remains the focal point for local government seeking more control of oil/natural gas drilling, the issue has also found its way to Los Angeles. The nation's second-largest city still can count dozens of active drilling sites, none more controversial than one operated by Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan.

The Los Angeles planning department is trying to require Freeport to file an application to continue operations at a decades-old drilling site in the heart of a residential neighborhood west of the University of Southern California campus. The city’s request asks Freeport to make a formal application by early September.

Freeport is balking at the city's mandate. Attorneys for the mining and natural resources company said the local authorities have no legal justification for the recent request. The city request asks for Freeport to make a formal application to the city by Sept. 1.

The Freeport attorneys argued that the city has no right to impose additional conditions on the company's drilling work. Until the city can provide more evidence of "validated nuisances" at the drill site, the company is not going to submit an application aimed at imposing more conditions, Freeport attorney Jeffrey Dintzer wrote to the city.

"[Freeport] is unaware of evidence of any violation of the applicable conditions, or of any validated nuisance, that would justify the action requested [by the city planning department]," Dintzer said. "In fact, it is our opinion that the request lacks any legal justification given the absence of facts or evidence to initiate a 'plan approval' of this nature."

Community leaders and attorneys for Earthjustice have hailed the city's latest effort, telling the local news media that it shows "they are doing their job," which hasn't always been the case as far as the opponents of the site are concerned. In June, in a 355-page submittal to the city's planning director, EarthJustice filed a petition on behalf of Community Partnership, a nonprofit grassroots organization, asking the city to "abate the ongoing nuisance" at the Freeport site.

Launching the city process for a drill site that California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman considers "in full compliance with the applicable rules and regulations" ignores the "vested rights of the operators of these facilities,” according to aLos Angeles Times report.

Earlier this summer, a Los Angeles zoning official sought to halt plans by a unit of Freeport to add onsite burning equipment for escaping natural gas at the controversial urban drilling site (see Daily GPI, July 8). Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. (FM O&G) sought to install an enclosed burner, claiming it would reduce emissions to near zero and have minimal impact on nearby residents, who blame the drilling operations for health issues.

In his Aug. 18 letter, Dintzer said that FM O&G "vigorously objects to any effort by the city to unilaterally modify conditions of its drill site authorization."

The associate city zoning administrator cited various concerns of fire officials, including the possibility of wind-blown debris catching fire. Residents have opposed the company's plans.

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