The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted in favor of a motion on Wednesday that would direct city attorneys to draft an ordinance to ban all new oil and gas extraction, as well as phase out all existing wells over the next twenty years.
Both California and Los Angeles County have introduced new laws in the past few years that greatly limit oil and gas extraction in California, largely due to health and environmental concerns. Last year alone, California has passed laws or signed agreements to ban new gas and oil development from taking place within 3, 200 feet of most existing buildings, ban fracking by 2024, ban all oil extraction by 2045, and phase out oil and gas production by 2045. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also approved a law to ban all new oil wells and drilling in unincorporated parts of the County and closing 1,600 idle or unused wells.
The LA City Council would go a step further than both. If approved as an ordinance later this year, LA would phase out new drilling much sooner than the state, and would lead the county to phase out production much sooner than the state’s 2045 date.
However, in order for the ordinance to work, city officials will first need to analyze what the economic outlook would be with such a ban in place, including what lost city tax revenue would be and how many jobs would be lost. The report would address those concerns by looking into how much money green energy could bring in, with how many current oil and gas jobs could be switched over to clean energy.
A study on the wells will also take place. If the study finds that wells have recouped any losses that the company spent on drilling, land, and other major costs, it will remove the largest barrier to have them closed.
On Wednesday, the Council reviewed both the environmental dangers of the gas wells, such as their large carbon foot print, and health dangers of living around them, which was shown through multiple studies to be worsening the health of Los Angeles residents living nearby. Many Council members specifically called out these dangers before the vote.
“From Wilmington to the San Fernando Valley, gas, drilling and and oil wells have disproportionately affected the health of our working-class neighborhoods,” City Council President, Nury Martinez said. “This is yet another example of how frontline communities disproportionately bear the impacts of pollution and climate change. Los Angeles is a city that constantly leads the way and today let it be a reminder that the city council prioritizes the health and wellbeing for every Angeleno.”
Members also noted that while oil production did help Los Angeles to explode in growth in the early 1900’s and provided jobs for tens of thousands of people, especially returning war veterans, for much of the 20th century, a changing climate, new medical studies on health effects, and diminishing oil reserves in the area have pointed for the need for oil drilling to be phased away.
“Oil drilling in Los Angeles might have made sense in the early part of the 20th century, but it sure doesn’t make a lot of sense now that we’ve become a megalopolis at the beginning of the 21st century,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian on Wednesday.
“It has been a long slog,” added Councilman Paul Koretz. “This effort is over 100 years overdue – and it is about time.”
LA one step closer to banning all new oil, gas extraction
Environmentalists and health officials were happy with the decision on Thursday.
“No community should be a sacrifice zone,” said executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-L.A. Martha Dina Arguello.
“LA needed a better commitment to fighting climate change, and they just took a huge step with this one,” said LA-based climate event organizer Lydia Wilde to the Globe on Thursday. “In LA you can still see the pollution some days, and one of the big culprits are these oil wells and other places where they get it. It isn’t environmentally sound, and today the Council agreed.”
Those in the oil industry countered that the loss of the oil industry in LA would cost a large chunk of city revenue, would cause the loss of 8,300 jobs, and would leave to even higher fuel costs. In addition, they said that what the Council is trying to do is illegal, and such a ban would be violating the U.S. Constitution.
“Shutting down domestic energy production not only puts Californians out of work and reduces taxes that pay for vital services, but it makes us more dependent on imported foreign oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq that is tankered into LA’s crowded port,” California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman said on Wednesday. I also question the city’s ability to legally move forward with the plan. Taking someone’s property without compensation, particularly one which is duly permitted and highly regulated, is illegal and violates the US constitution’s fifth amendment against illegal search and seizure.”
James Gomez, a former oilfield foreman in LA, added, “These are thousands of people they want out of work. Thousands. They need to have good career paths lined up for them so they aren’t starting back on square one with minimum pay at age 50 or 60. Maybe those environmentalists or Council members will give them jobs with pay comparable to what they are getting now, right?”
“They need to make sure they know the consequences for what they are doing too. We all know that oil isn’t going to last forever, and even the hardest-nosed oilman out there will admit that green energy and electric cars are the future. But we need oil now, not only for current needs, but to help transition to a new energy era. And we can’t do that if they stop the wells. To get the future they want we need need to keep doing these things for a little while more in the present, but they don’t seem to understand it. 2045 is the big date, but they need to be flexible with it. This isn’t flexible.”
The ordinance vote over the ban is expected to be held later this year.
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