What to Do When Private Corporations Extract Gas from the Public’s Backyard … and, Something Goes Wrong

VOICES--Last week, late on Wednesday night (11/29/17) and on into Thursday, thousands of residents across Los Angeles’ Westside smelled “gas” touching off concern, fear, distress, worry and … a host of adverse health effects. 

To address the incident, CD5’s Paul Koretz arranged for an “emergency” hearing on the matter in council chambers. Reporting was the city’s Petroleum Administrator, and representatives from LAFD and Southern California Gas Corporation (SCG).  Oddly, the city’s lessee and the company ultimately responsible, the gas extraction corporation Hillcrest Beverly Oil (HBOC), did not contribute to this report.   

At approximately 9pm on Wednesday evening, toxic “gas odorant” spilled and becoming airborne in appreciable quantities, caused the alarm and ultimate widespread reporting of adverse health conditions across the Westside. 

The spilled odorant originated on land that the City of LA (CoLA) leases to HBOC. An oil extraction site operates from a small acreage cordoned off on the grounds of the golf course at Pico between Motor and Patricia.  It seems that as oil is extracted there the odorless gas that comes with it is shunted to HBOC’s vendor, SoCalGas onsite and simultaneously “odorized” (oxidized) for detection, a safety precaution.  

The extraction is under the purview of Hillcrest Beverly Oil Corporation and the oxidation process is under the purview of SoCalGas. It is SCG’s equipment that failed, located on private, locked land within the oil companies’ private patch, which is leased by HBOC from CoLA.  HBOC is the city’s vendor; they are in charge of this leased land.  It is they with whom the city has a relationship, not HBOC’s vendor, SCG. 

So there’s some confusion about responsibility and who knew what when and who should have told what when and to whom.  This was discussed with some heat at the city council where the experience of Mitch Englander’s constituents in CD12 surrounding Aliso Canyon is on everyone’s mind. 

In testimony that is well worth a listen (starting at 1:19, Englander at 2:12), Englander asks ‘What will it take to get some corporate responsibility’ of SCG’s PR rep, a comparatively nominal informant (i.e., not an engineer or scientist but a publicist) brought by the city’s Petroleum Administrator as part of his presentation to the council. 

My frustration is with the bluster and finger-pointing that empowers the buck of responsibility to wander aimlessly while all along a simple municipal code dictates the council’s prerogative. 

City Council created the Citywide Nuisance Abatement Program (CNAP) in the late 1990’s, specifically “To eliminate public nuisance impacts caused by a particular use which is operated in an improper manner.“  The goal is “To alter a business’s operations so it will no longer be a negative presence in the community, rather than close it.”  This is LAMC 12.27.1

Rather than permit HBOC, a noncompliant company with a twenty+ year record of violations as documented here to perpetually carry on in the same refractory manner, why is the city, which after all owns the land on which these shenanigans are occurring, not initiating its own Nuisance Abatement process? Why are the city council members not directing the City Planner to do so?  Why do council members express dismay publicly, yet refrain from simply initiating the process which would curb all this? 

It’s our land, it’s our citizenry that’s at risk, it’s our elected officials who have the means to bring this company to task: couldn’t our council members please stop pussyfooting around and simply direct City Planning to commence with Nuisance Abatement?  It won’t compulsorily shut down operations or in any way be “mean” to either company, it will enable public input into the process of figuring out what’s going on and shine a light on what’s happening behind those closed company gates, perched atop public property. 


Please call your council member and ask them to direct the City Planning Department to initiate a Nuisance Abatement Process on CoLA’s lessee, Hillcrest Beverly Oil Corporation.  Feel free to suggest secondarily, that the city consider the same process for Southern California Gas Company.  But as far as WLA’s odorant leak and the public safety risk to those in the extended shadow of Rancho Park, the buck stops with HBOC.  It is critically the operations, crumbling infrastructure, notification and public health safety practices of Hillcrest Beverly Oil Corporation that needs addressing through current, standing law: LAMC 12.27.1 and its Nuisance Abatement Process.


(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com).