OP/ED - Thundering truck traffic rocks our homes in the morning and at night. Sickening petroleum fumes choke our lungs. The sounds of industrial oil drilling echo through our neighborhoods. And negligent operators like E&B Natural Resources willfully endanger our community while seeking every opportunity to subvert the law.
The City of Los Angeles touts its reputation for tackling the climate and pollution crisis brought about by extracting and burning fossil fuels. But life on the ground for communities plagued by active oil drilling sites, like South LA, is an ongoing battle against the oil industry’s misinformation. After years of advocacy from frontline communities who have bravely shared their stories of respiratory illnesses, miscarriages, and cancer as a result of oil drilling pollution, we were finally granted the same legal protections as wealthier communities. Earlier this year, the Zoning Administrator issued a Determination that requires E&B to comply with operating conditions that protect residents surrounding the South LA Murphy Drill Site. Finally–our community saw a glimmer of hope and the possibility of justice ahead of us, after facing the daily dangers of life next to the oil drilling site for so long.
But now, it’s abundantly clear that those promises for equal protection under the law were nothing but empty words. These same city officials who once spoke of environmental justice for residents of South LA have now turned their backs on us to curry favor with the insatiable oil industry. Shockingly, the City seems to be caving to many of E&B’s demands, offering modifications that undermine their own Determination and substantially weaken protections for the surrounding community. For example, the City is proposing to reverse itself and allow the oil company to buy tens-of-millions of cubic feet of methane to burn in on-site generators. This abrupt reversal is a clear sign of the entrenched environmental racism that still pervades local policy.
Oil companies like E&B continue to use every trick in their playbook to avoid accountability and continue their harmful practices. Their appeal of the Zoning Administrator’s decision, and claims that they are not a nuisance to the community, fly in the face of myriad regulatory violations and the personal stories and lived experiences of their neighbors who have shared how the noxious fumes and deafening noises have impacted our health and wellbeing. They have chosen to push for business as usual in the face of our children who are growing up with asthma and other respiratory diseases, our elderly neighbors who are suffering from heart conditions exacerbated by poor air quality, and our community members who have been diagnosed with cancer because of their toxic operations. We cannot let their appeal and their misinformation campaign distract our focus: the Murphy Drill Site has been the epitome of a bad neighbor.
Richard Parks in front of the Murphy Oil Drilling Site
The Zoning Administrator’s Determination afforded South LA’s residents merely the most basic protections already in place in other LA neighborhoods. It calls for E&B Natural Resources to permanently enclose the drill site’s equipment and install an enhanced vapor recovery system to address the odors and fumes entering our neighborhood. It bans the import of methane onto the site to end the harmful impacts and safety risks of importing and burning methane. And it requires the use of only electric-powered equipment to replace toxic diesel exhaust that floods our homes and schools. The Determination is meant to directly address the extensively documented harms and inadequacies of E&B’s current operations. These basic protections are not groundbreaking, but the bare minimum that South LA’s communities demand and deserve.
The City of LA has an obligation to stand by this Determination and not back down to E&B’s false claims. E&B Natural Resources has a terrible track record and well-documented history of causing harm to communities surrounding their drill sites. They have been responsible for a barrage of worker safety violations, failure to plug idle wells, and ongoing operations that cause nearby residents to suffer. Their actions are reprehensible. And their decision to appeal the Zoning Administrator’s Determination is a slap in the face to all the community members who clearly demonstrated their long history of nuisances at the Murphy Drill Site. It’s time for our city officials to challenge their misinformation campaign head on and stand by the truth. We urge them to deny this deceptive appeal and uphold their original Determination.
[This article was update on 10-12-23.]
(Richard Parks is the president and founder of Redeemer Community Partnership. He founded Redeemer Community Partnership to help create a safe, nurturing community for children and their families through leadership development, community transformation and resident partnerships.)