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How the Orange County Oil Spill Is Connected to the Pico-Robertson Drill Site

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Activists and community leaders in Pico-Robertson have been in a decades-long battle with the city to regulate the West Pico Oil Drill Site, which has facilities along West Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive.

The post How the Orange County Oil Spill Is Connected to the Pico-Robertson Drill Site appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Activists and community leaders in Pico-Robertson have been in a decades-long battle with the city to regulate the West Pico Oil Drill Site, which has facilities along West Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive. In light of the massive oil spill in Orange County, where 126,000 gallons of oil have polluted the Pacific Ocean, activists are highlighting how the spill is connected to the city’s drilling sites. 

Michael Salman, a Professor Emeritus of history at UCLA who lives in West Adams in Council District 10, has been working to try to strengthen city regulation of oil drill sites in his own neighborhood and across the city, including the West Pico Drill Site in Council District 5. The main problem, according to Salman, is a lack of oversight from the city.

“They’ve never done regular compliance inspections to see if oil companies are abiding by city code and Zoning Administrator assigned conditions of use,” he said. “The company running the offshore platforms [in Orange County] was hit with lots of safety violations by the federal regulatory agency, but the agency’s enforcement fell off during the Trump Administration.” 

Similarly, the West Pico Oil Drill Site has had serious safety violations and illegal operations, but the city has not paid attention. Salman referred to the fact that since 2000, the operators of the Pico site have undertaken 25 major projects (24 on oil wells) for which city law required applications for approval by the ZA. But there were no applications and no reviews, and the city continues to ignore this pattern of protracted illegal oil drilling. If the city conducted general compliance inspections on an annual basis, Salman said this never would have happened.

The city inspects billboards and automobile wrecking yards and bathrooms when homeowners remodel them, but refuses to establish a program to inspect all oil drill sites.

In September 2018, City Council President Herb Wesson (who represents  Council District 10) led the City Council in passing a motion calling for the City Attorney to create an annual oil drill site inspection program. According to Salman, the program was to be paid for completely by permit fees from the oil companies. The City Attorney refused to draft the ordinance and gave no public explanation; to this day the Council has not followed up. Salman said the city inspects billboards and automobile wrecking yards and bathrooms when homeowners remodel them, but refuses to establish a program to inspect all oil drill sites for compliance with city laws and regulations.

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“In [the West Pico and the OC] cases, in the ocean and on land, there’s lax regulation,” he said. “If you don’t do inspections, then you might as well have no regulation at all. In both cases there is aging infrastructure, and it’s an industry that has gone through hard times of cyclical busts. When the price of oil falls, there’s a tendency to cut back on safety and maintenance. If there are no regular inspections, you start to get into dangerous territory.” 

Salman doesn’t hold back his criticism of city leaders, whom he said, “have a default setting of making very big promises and then doing nothing.” He specifically called out Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents Council District 5, including Pico-Robertson, and is running for city controller.

 “Paul Koretz, more loudly than anybody else in City Council, likes to talk about how much he hates all of the oil companies and that fossil fuels should be abandoned and they are terrible, and yet since 2009, he’s been the councilmember for CD5 and it has more drill sites than any other council district in the city,” said Salman. “He has gone out of his way to prevent proper reviews of the drill sites in his district.”

Another issue, Salman said, is that he thinks city leaders are sometimes afraid that if they do anything at all, “it will be unsatisfactory to people who just want all the oil wells to instantly go away, which is physically, economically and legally impossible.” 

Salman was a leader in lobbying for the plugging of wells and closure of the 4th Ave Drill Site in Council District 10, which was next to a LAUSD elementary school. He said the winding down of the oil industry is a process that requires tight supervision and cannot be done without establishing a vigorous inspection program first.

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If an oil spill were to happen in Pico-Robertson or anywhere in the city, Salman pointed out that it wouldn’t spread as widely and quickly as the spill in the ocean off of Orange County. However, he said he believes that it would still be detrimental because it would happen in a densely populated area, which is why the city has had laws since 1945 that are supposed to tightly control oil industry operations. 

In 2019, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul and local volunteers highlighted how community members have smelled the toxic fumes from the West Pico Oil Drill Site and experienced migraines and dizziness because of it. 

Even though these oil sites are plagued with problems, Salman said something positive could come out of the OC oil spill. 

 “For the city, it should be a wake-up call, finally, after many years of trying to get it to do regular compliance inspections,” Salman said. “It should enforce its own laws, which can also help to encourage the state to enforce its own laws more fully and properly.”

The post How the Orange County Oil Spill Is Connected to the Pico-Robertson Drill Site appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/columnist/341318/how-the-orange-county-oil-spill-is-connected-to-the-pico-robertson-drill-site/

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