A coalition of environmental justice groups representing Latino and African-American neighborhoods in the lower-income areas of Los Angeles on Friday sued the city, alleging uneven treatment of various urban drilling sites (see Daily GPI, Aug. 18).

The lawsuit, filed in a California Superior Court in Los Angeles County, accuses Los Angeles city officials of violating California Environmental Quality Act provisions by exempting new wells and other proposed changes at ongoing oil well production sites from environmental reviews. It alleges that the city has illegally allowed oil companies to drill hundreds of oil wells in residential neighborhoods without assessing health/environmental threats.

Youth for Environmental Justice, the Center for Biological Diversity and the South-Central Youth Leadership Coalition are asking the court to stop Los Angeles from issuing permits to well operators without requiring tougher environmental reviews. They contend that more stringent conditions are imposed in more affluent and mostly white areas of the city.

“Oil operations in Los Angeles commonly employ toxic chemicals that are known to cause respiratory diseases, cancer and other health problems,” said a spokesperson for the environmental groups. “Hundreds of thousands of residents live within one mile of an oil well.”

Earlier this year and last, periodic resident demonstrations were held, protesting plans of a unit of Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. to flare associated gas at a site in a working class neighborhood near the University of Southern California (USC) campus, and separately at a site near USC owned and operated by Allenco Energy Co. (see Daily GPI, April 28; Nov. 27, 2013).

Allenco shut down operations two years ago so it could improve its operations in the face of community and political pressure.

Days before the lawsuit was filed, the city planning director’s office began efforts to hire a petroleum expert to advise city officials on issues related to drilling.

City officials told the Los Angeles Times they were reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment on the legal action.

Representatives from the Western States Petroleum Association and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) had no comment on the lawsuit since their organizations were not named in the legal action, but a CIPA official cautioned that shutting down urban drilling sites in Los Angeles County would have adverse local economic impacts.

“In Los Angeles County alone, more than 116,000 jobs, $20 billion in business sales and $5.4 billion in state and local taxes are generated as a result of responsible oil production,” the spokesperson told NGI. In addition, she said that “California has the toughest protections in the nation for oil production and more than a dozen state, local and federal agencies regulating oil production in Los Angeles County, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District.”