A Los Angeles zoning official has placed a big stop sign in front of plans by a unit of Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan to add onsite burning equipment for escaping natural gas at its much-maligned urban drilling site near the University of Southern California (USC) campus.

Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. (FMO&G) wants to put an enclosed burner at the drill site, which is in a blue-collar neighborhood. It claims this would reduce emissions to near zero and have minimal impact on nearby residents, who blame the drilling operations for health issues.

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

While residents expressed fears the gas burner would permit FMO&G to expand drilling operations, the company offered assurances it was intended only to maintain existing operations. The burner was expected to provide a backup method for disposing of unused gas that could not be sold, re-injected or used in on-site power generation.

A Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan spokesperson said his company has no comment on the situation, which is one in a long line of challenging issues between the resources company and local residents and city officials in Los Angeles.

In January, residents in the surrounding neighborhood demanded more attention from the city’s planning department regarding the longstanding FMO&G oil well site (see Daily GPI, Jan. 29). For the past three years, periodic resident demonstrations have erupted, protesting plans to flare associated gas at the FMO&G site and separately at another site near the USC campus that is 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. They continue to ask why city planning officials have not followed up on earlier complaints. Los Angeles reportedly includes more than 1,000 drilling sites within its boundaries.

Freeport-McMoRan officials in the past told NGI that operations and production have remained the same in recent months at its Jefferson Boulevard well site due to low commodity prices and other factors.