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Court Puts More Curbs on Los Angeles Urban Drill Site

An idle and already troubled urban oil drilling site in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday was hit with a permanent injunction by a California Superior Court judge that will keep it shut down until the operator, Allenco Energy Co., installs a health and safety monitoring system at the two-acre site.

A local residents group and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer cheered a decision they had sought from Judge Samantha Jessner, which Feuer said could result in a contempt of court ruling if Allenco fails to comply. The company had no immediate comment on the judge's action.

Feuer told the Los Angeles Times that the judge's imposition of new, tougher rules for the community surrounding the Allenco site near the University of Southern California campus are "without precedent, and residents deserve nothing less."

In the fall of 2013, under increasing community and political pressure, Allenco agreed to shut down operations at the site leased from the Los Angeles Catholic Church Archdiocese a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles in a working class neighborhood. At the time, Allenco said it would use the pause in drilling to improve its operations (see Daily GPINov. 27, 2013).

Allenco reportedly has agreed to pay $1.25 million in civil penalties, and half of those funds will be used to fund investigations of pollution in other urban-located oilfields in the state, according to Jessner's permanent injunction.

Other stipulations include:

  • Shutdown of the operations if there is any release of methane, hydrogen sulfide or non-methane hydrocarbons that exceeds levels set by the city attorney's environmental expert;
  • Even a series of lower-level releases not exceeding state standards can trigger a shutdown;
  • The new requirements will remain in place for four years after AllenCo reopens its operations at the site;
  • At least one community meeting will be held to explain the rules to residents in the area affected; and
  • Allenco is required to comply with every statute and ordinance it allegedly violated.

"The new system is more protective of public health than existing rules," according to Feuer, who is obligated by the injunction to retain an environmental justice investigator to look at possible violations at other urban oil sites in the city.

Since 2013, the combination of community concerns and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) intervention made Allenco's drilling site the focus of multiple investigations regarding elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, around residences in the area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the regional South Coast Air Quality Management District, city attorney's office, and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Residents more recently asked Pope Francis to intervene with the LA Archdiocese, which owns the land.

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