Liberty Hill Environmental Partners Fight Oil Drilling Plans in South LA

by Anonymous (not verified) on December 09, 2014


IMG_1156 Kitchen window view of drilling site

By Joe Rihn

At Liberty Hill Foundation we understand that we all need clean air, and we all deserve safe neighborhoods, free from toxic chemicals.  But for some Angelenos who live in close proximity to urban oil wells, these necessities don’t exist.  Noxious fumes and continuous earsplitting noise are part of everyday life near drill sites, which are often placed in low-income communities of color.  With oil companies looking to increase production, more families are being placed at a greater risk.  That’s why we has established the new Fund for Environmental Health and Safety, which puts resources in the hands of organizations working to keep communities safe from drilling’s dangerous side effects.

Fund for Environmental Health and Safety grantees, Redeemer Community Partnership and Esperanza Community Housing, put those resources into action on a recent Tuesday afternoon at City Hall.   Liberty Hill organizing partners and other community members attended a public hearing about oil drilling in South L.A.’s West Adams neighborhood to take a stand for environmental justice.

The hearing focused on a drill site at the intersection of Jefferson Blvd. and Budlong Ave., where Freeport McRoRan, the company in charge, is seeking to expand its existing drilling operations. The City of Los Angeles has granted Freeport an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) based on drilling permits approved in the 1960’s.   Redeemer Community Partnership and Esperanza Community Housing, both based nearby the site, organized community members to attend the hearing and speak about the facility’s toll on the community’s health and quality of life.  Both organizations received grants from Liberty Hill’s Fund for Environmental Health and Safety.

As the hearing’s one o’clock start time drew near, the crowd’s size began to exceed expectations. City Hall staff had to move the hearing to a larger space, and then designate the original room for overflow.  By the time the hearing began, both rooms were filled to capacity.  Many came dressed in Redeemer Community Partnership t-shirts or wore stickers with an anti-drilling message.

After an associate zoning administrator opened the hearing, she called on representatives of Freeport to talk about the company’s plans.  Downplaying community concerns about the site’s environmental impact, Freeport’s spokespeople claimed that the site is subject to routine safety checks and that most of the chemicals used at the facility are found in everyday household products.

truck entering gates Noisy truck entering drilling site


When it was time for community members to speak, a much different story emerged.  As about 45 people addressed the room for one minute each, there were accounts of overwhelming chemical smells, nosebleeds and headaches and constant loud noise.  “I really feel that oil drilling has no place in residential communities,” said Angelica Romero of Esperanza Community Housing during her testimony, reflecting the crowd’s general sentiment.

According to Richard Parks, President of Redeemer Partnership, Freeport’s violations at the Jefferson site are numerous.  In a press conference before the hearing Parks described a situation in which “10,000 gallons of toxic acid is parked 10 feet away from bedroom windows.” While Freeport workers on one side of a fence are dressed in full body protective suits, neighbors on the other side don’t even have an evacuation plan.  Parks said Freeport has also illegally painted curbs red, sold the buildings next to the site that were supposed to act as a buffer zone, failed to notify residents of previous public hearings and even allowed oil to spray buildings and cars outside the facility.

Corissa Pacillas, who lives across the street from the drilling site, said she often smells strong diesel fumes in her house. “I can hear the sound of the machines drilling and diesel trucks in every room of my home,” she continued, describing how loud noises coming from the facility set off car alarms in the surrounding neighborhood.  “It’s really sad to see how people can’t even open their windows,” Sandy Navarro of Esperanza Community Housing followed.

With so many problems from the drilling site threatening the health and well-being of residents, Parks said some families have even had to move away. “Fortunately for them, they had that as an option.  But not everybody does,” he continued.

For many speakers, the first step toward addressing Freeport’s violations is subjecting the site to an environmental impact report.  “As a community we deserve informed decision making,” said Parks.

When members of the public had finished speaking, Freeport representatives offered a rebuttal, disputing the need for an environmental review, and claiming that some community members had brought up unrelated facilities.

A spokesperson for Councilmember Bernard Parks requested to keep the record open for another thirty days, stating that the councilmember hopes for an agreement between both sides.  In response to this request the zoning administrator decided to hold the record open until January 5, 2015.

Although the City has so far declined to take a strong stance against Freeport, Richard Parks is encouraged by the numbers who showed up to the hearing.  “One of the attorneys that we’re working with said to me, ‘Wow, if every public hearing was this well attended Los Angeles would be a very different place,’ and I think that’s true,” he said.