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Oil company to yank controversial South L.A. drilling application

Oil company will pull back a controversial application to drill and redrill wells at a South L.A. site

An oil and gas company is pulling back a controversial application to drill and redrill wells at a South Los Angeles site close to homes, but local activists say they aren't giving up the fight against alleged violations at the Jefferson Boulevard facility.

The Freeport-McMoRan petroleum company had sought permission to drill a new well and redrill two existing ones at the site, describing the work as "minimal in scope and duration" and similar to the drilling activities that had taken place there for decades.

Community activists fought against the plan, arguing that drilling there had caused acrid fumes, overpowering noise and other nuisances and dangers that should be scrutinized more critically before wells could be drilled.

A November hearing at City Hall ended without a decision on the drilling plan. At that hearing, an aide to Councilman Bernard C. Parks -- whose district includes the drilling site -- said the councilman wanted to bring the two sides together to discuss operating rules.

But the councilman's office recently told community members that an upcoming meeting was canceled because the drilling plan was being abandoned. Freeport-McMoRan now says it plans to withdraw its application by the end of the month.

"The decision to withdraw the application was prompted primarily in response to the steep decline in commodity prices," company spokesman Eric Kinneberg said in an email to the Los Angeles Times.

"Withdrawal of the application will not affect normal daily production operations, which will continue consistent with how the facility has been safely operated for over 50 years," Kinneberg wrote Thursday.

Community activists concerned about the drilling believe that the outcry also played a role. They argue that the city should still hold the company accountable for "repeated and serious violations," including one incident in which oil droplets drifted onto an apartment building and nearby cars, and impose new conditions on the drilling site to protect neighboring residents.

The fact that Freeport-McMoRan withdrew its application "should not delay their day of reckoning with residents," Richard Parks, board president of the nonprofit Redeemer Community Partnership, said in an email.

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