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Drilling Foes Hit Occidental Safety Record

Times Staff Writer

Citing difficulties the company has experienced elsewhere--one having little to do with oil drilling--local environmentalists said Thursday it would be like “putting Bambi in the care of the National Rifle Assn.” to allow Occidental Petroleum Corp. to drill in Pacific Palisades.

Leaders of several environmental groups assailed Occidental at a Sierra Club headquarters news conference called to challenge the notion that passage of Occidental-sponsored Proposition P would help protect the coastline and pave the way for a safe project. They referred particularly to the explosion and loss of life on an Occidental oil rig in North Sea last summer and fines levied in recent months against a subsidiary meat packing plant in Nebraska involving worker safety.

‘Worst Record’

“Occidental has the dubious distinction of holding the worst record for violations of worker safety . . . in U.S. history,” declared Robert Hattoy, the Sierra Club’s Southern California/Nevada director. “Occidental ought to be called the ‘Accidental’ Petroleum Corp.”

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In response, Occidental attorney Mickey Kantor said the company “has been recovering energy in Los Angeles for 28 years without any problems of safety.”

The news conference was the latest attempt by supporters of rival Proposition O to try to counter the aggressive and well-financed Proposition P campaign. If approved on Nov. 8, Proposition O will kill Occidental’s plans to drill for oil across from Will Rogers State Beach. Proposition P, meanwhile, would reaffirm the city’s 1985 approval of the project. With less than two weeks remaining before the election, both sides in the drilling wars have been searching for something new to present to reporters. On Thursday, a bit of Hollywood was the lure. Actor James Garner, a longtime drilling opponent, was on hand to help unveil two Proposition O commercials, in which he appears, that warn voters that oil operations can be dangerous.

Witnessed 2 Explosions

A Brentwood resident, Garner told reporters that as a youth, he worked in the oil fields of west Texas and personally witnessed two explosions. He added that until five years ago, he served on the Board of Directors of Saxon Oil Co.

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“How do we get over to people that it’s not safe” to drill for oil? Garner asked.

In addition to Garner and his 30-second spots, the primary focus of Thursday’s news conference was Occidental’s safety record. But one of the key arguments had no direct relationship to oil-drilling operations.

That involved Occidental’s IBP Inc. meatpacking subsidiary, which has had numerous problems with 600 workers in its Dakota City, Neb., plant. Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Occidental $2.59 million for failing to report more than 1,000 worker injuries connected with animal slaughtering and the preparation of meat. Earlier this year, OSHA proposed a second $3.1-million fine, citing similar problems.

Occidental is appealing both fines.

The environmentalists also cited the explosion at the company’s Piper Alpha rig in the North Sea last July 6, killing 166 workers.

For months, Occidental has contended that the North Sea disaster is not analogous to an onshore drilling operation. But Hattoy and others defended the comparison again Thursday, insisting that accidents can happen whenever the highly volatile fuel is involved.

Fear of Offshore Operations

Hattoy acknowledged that even if Occidental had an unblemished safety record, environmentalists would oppose the project because of their fear that it might lead to offshore operations in nearby Santa Monica Bay. Proposition P backers have argued that it would not.

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But the Sierra Club head said the Proposition P commercials have raised the issue of whether Occidental can be trusted to ensure safety at the 2-acre site. He contended that entrusting the coastline to Occidental “would be like turning our redwood forests over to chain-saw manufacturers or putting Bambi in the care of the National Rifle Assn.”

Kantor, the Occidental attorney, said that Proposition P is an environmental measure because it calls for the installation of a de-watering system on the fragile bluffs above the drilling site and establishes a seven-cent per barrel account earmarked for toxic waste enforcement.


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