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Neighborhood Drilling: How Neighborhood Drilling Hurts Lower Socioeconomic Communities in LA County

By Abigail Balais


Photo courtesy of Earth Justice


With over 20% of total US climate emissions being from oil, gas, and coal extractions, the oil industry is one of the leading contributors to climate change. Knowing this, we question: How else has Big Oil negatively impacted the environment?


It is widely known and frequently talked about that oil drilling disrupts wildlife habitats, leads to light pollution, and produces dangerous emissions, and negatively affects tourism through the destruction of pristine landscapes. But one problem created from Big Oil that not many are aware of is neighborhood drilling.


Neighborhood drilling is when oil and gas drilling sites are in production in close proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and general residential areas. The occurrence of neighborhood drilling in LA had an early beginning since it started almost 150 years ago. The fossil fuel industry played a huge role in Los Angeles’ early development, when oil was easy to access, and where there was a clear separation between oil-producing zones and residential neighborhoods. But, this was in the 1890s, when the population was 50,000 people, and it was more possible to separate communities from the oilfields. By 1930, California was producing almost 25% of the world’s oil output, and the population grew to 1.2 million people, making the line of separation thinner and thinner. Today, there are 105,000 oil and gas wells in California alone. In LA County, there are 5,000 wells. In Bakersfield, CA there is an oilfield that produces over 60% of the oil in California, 10% of the US oil supply, and 1% of the world’s total oil production.


Oilfield near Bakersfield, CA | Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Despite having these oilfields, oil drilling sites have continued to be placed in lower socioeconomic communities all over LA County. One that has been documented is one in LA’s Wilmington California, pictured below. Seen is an oil pumpjack right outside the fence of a park. Unfortunately, this is only one example of many, showing the direct disregard that the oil industry has for communities of lower socioeconomic status. More than five million people in California live near an oil or gas well, two-thirds of whom are people of color.



Pumpjack in Neighborhood of Wilmington, CA | Photo by Nacho Corbella

It is generally recommended to place oil wells, oil drilling, and pump jacks at least 3,200 feet away from residential areas, as this is the minimum safe distance between neighborhoods and drilling. Because this recommendation has been ignored in LA County, there are endless cases of health issues for communities in the area.


With the rapid increase in population, the line of separation has been immensely blurred exposing members of these communities to toxic chemicals like crystalline silica, methanol, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and too many more.


Organizations like STAND-LA and VISION fight for the protection of communities who are disproportionately affected by neighborhood drilling. The tens of thousands of tons of toxic air chemicals used in Los Angeles County and surrounding communities pose unacceptable public health and safety risks. Through inadequate reporting and secrecy, oil companies hide the full health risks from the public. State and local governments must take stronger action to protect our communities from these dangerous oil industry chemicals.


 

References


7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment. The Wilderness Society. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/7-ways-oil-and-gas-drilling-bad-environment#


Bakersfield - the Oil Capitol of California. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

http://www.sjvgeology.org/oil/bakersfield.html


Danger next door: Top 12 toxics used for neighborhood oil drilling in ... (n.d.). Retrieved

January 25, 2023, from

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/DangerNextDoor.pdf


History of oil in Los Angeles. S T A N D - L.A. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

https://www.stand.la/history-of-oil-in-los-angeles.html


The issues. CleanBreak. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from https://cleanbreak.info/issues/


Oil and gas pollution. Earthworks. (2022, June 21). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

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of%20produced%20water%20can%20kill%20vegetation%20and%20sterilize%20soils


USC Environmental Health Centers. INFOGRAPHIC: Neighborhood Oil Drilling - USC

Environmental Health Centers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

https://envhealthcenters.usc.edu/infographics/infographic-neighborhood-oil-drilling



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