Ruling Could Invalidate Law on Oil Drilling at Palisades

Times Staff Writer

Focusing on the issue of pipeline safety, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has found fault with an environmental assessment used by the Los Angeles City Council as a basis for granting approval of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s controversial oil drilling project on the coast in Pacific Palisades.

The judge’s decision Tuesday could lead to the invalidation of the council ordinance authorizing the project, in which case the City Council would have to reconsider its January decision to allow the drilling project, according to lawyers involved in the dispute.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents Pacific Palisades and is the council’s leading foe of the oil drilling project, said Wednesday he regarded the judge’s decision as “a pivotal turning point in the matter”.

“The judge raised the same question that I and others have been raising for years: Is this an appropriate place to drill for oil--next to a precious recreational resource, our coastal beach area?” Braude said.

Assistant City Atty. William Waterhouse said Wednesday that Judge Norman Epstein set a Nov. 4 deadline for lawyers representing the city, Occidental and foes of the project to submit written arguments on how the issue should be resolved.


Information Lacking

At that point, Waterhouse said, the judge will decide whether to send the matter back to the council or allow Occidental to proceed with the project.

Waterhouse said the judge ruled that Occidental had not provided enough information on where its pipeline would go and how potential dangers, such as spills and fires, would be minimized.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit last February by foes of the oil drilling project. Occidental since the early 1970s has been seeking permission to drill for oil at the Pacific Palisades site, which lies at the foot of a slide-prone bluff across Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach.

Occidental would have to build a pipeline to transport crude oil from the proposed drill site to an existing trunk line that, in turn, would carry the oil to a refinery, according to Dave Elson, a lawyer representing Occidental.

Elson said the route of the pipeline could not be determined until it was known which of three potential refiners would be receiving Occidental’s oil. Elson said that there are four possible routes, each three to four miles long, that could be followed depending on which of the refiners takes the oil. But he said a choice of refiners cannot be made until Occidental knows more about the composition of the oil.