Neighbors push back against drilling plan at South L.A. site

Neighbors are pressing for an environmental study of oil drilling at a South L.A. site close to homes

Neighbors are pressing for an environmental study of oil drilling at a South Los Angeles location close to homes, arguing that the city should scrutinize fumes, noise and chemical usage before deciding whether to let the company drill wells at the site.

The Freeport-McMoRan petroleum company wants to drill a new well and redrill two existing ones at the Jefferson Boulevard site, located west of USC. The site is ringed by a wall, but nearby buildings overlook the drilling operations.

The company argues that no study of the project is needed under the California Environmental Quality Act. In a written statement, Freeport-McMoRan spokesman Eric Kinneberg said the project is “minimal in scope and duration” and would be done within roughly four months.

"What we are proposing … is exactly the same thing that’s been going on since 1965," said L. Rae Connet of Petroland Services, which represented Freeport-McMoRan at a City Hall hearing on Tuesday.

But neighbors and community activists argue that drilling at the site has caused longstanding nuisances and dangers, including acrid fumes and deafening noise.

Richard Parks, board president of a nonprofit in the area, said that when trucks filled with acid pulled up to the site in July, workers in head-to-toe protective gear toiled a short distance from apartments. Residents were given scant notice about the activity, he said.

"This should not be happening," said resident Corissa Pacillas, adding that she and her husband worry about how chemicals used at the site might affect children they might have in the future.

Three years ago, oil droplets drifted onto an apartment building and cars parked nearby, Parks said. Community activists also argued that Freeport-McMoRan wasn't complying with a requirement to own and maintain two nearby properties as a buffer between neighbors and the drilling site.

At a Tuesday hearing, the company said the city had allowed an earlier owner to sell the properties, ending that requirement. It argued that many of the chemicals that worried neighbors were commonly used in household products.

Near the end of the hearing, an aide to Councilman Bernard Parks -- whose South Los Angeles district includes the drilling site -- said the councilman wanted to bring both sides together to create a working document containing rules for how the site should operate.

Tuesday's hearing ended without a decision on the drilling proposal. Associate zoning administrator Maya Zaitzevsky said she would accept information and comments on the proposal until early January. 

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